02 June 2014

At Heidi's insistence, I wrote the following letter to be read during afternoon announcements to express my gratitude to the Uniontown students who participated in this weekend’s literary festival, held at the Uniontown Mall:

I would like to thank the writers and sponsors of the UHS Tomahawk Talk for their support of the inaugural Pennsylvania Literary Festival—the first of its kind to be held in the entire state of Pennsylvania. The event brought in writers, publishers, artists, and readers from all over the United States, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett sent state librarian Stacey Aldrich as his personal representative. Ms. Aldrich was so impressed by the festival that she offered the state library in Harrisburg as a possible location to host next year’s event.

I would especially like to thank the Uniontown High School students and alumni who visited, bought books, talked to authors and publishers, and participated in workshops. Your presence at this event is what made it special. I was very lucky to be part of a team that consisted of three Uniontown graduates—Matthew Dowling, Dave Slusarick, and my wife, Heidi Ruby Miller. One of our primary goals for creating this festival was to showcase Uniontown and its people and you did not disappoint!

When an author or publisher asked about the kids they saw participating in the workshops I was very happy to be able to say that you were Uniontown students. It takes a lot of courage to be able sit through a class with professional writers—some of whom were more than four or five times your age. But taking that huge step in pursuit of something you love shows that you have the guts and desire to succeed, no matter what you chose to do after you leave UHS.

Many, many thanks,
Jason Jack Miller


  1. I just wanted to say thank you for this. Even though it's not addressed to me, I was one of those students. There was a time when I had the starry-eyed dream of becoming the next great best-selling author.

    For years I attended such festivals and workshops, determined to make it. Never once did anyone even acknowledge my existence, much less thank me for trying. For an author of your caliber to have even noticed at all would have meant the world to me.

    Your writing alone makes you one of my favourite authors, but to come to know the kind of person you are behind the words make it all the more inspiring. I don't know if you are even aware of the difference you could be making to one of those kids that were there.

    So thank you.

  2. Hey Micael,

    Your post came just after I received some very bad news about somebody I guided with back in 1993. A legend that I was lucky enough to get to work and hang out with. Bo and a few guys like him helped shape the guy I am today. There were no second chances on the river and the margin of error was slim. I learned about respect and failure and other, far more important lessons from a bunch of guys who never went to college. So many of those intangibles are what carried me through my darkest times as a writer.

    I ended up working for a whitewater rafting in Ohiopyle after drifting from social group to social group all through high school. Had the guys in my band, but they were all a year younger than me. Had a lot of friends in Art Club, but I couldn't draw and I always known I'd gotten in because they had vouched for me. When I started college I ended up hanging out with a group of guys that were into basketball and sports. And I'd just been dumped by an ex.

    When I showed up on that first day of Cheat training (Cheat River, Albright, WV) none of that mattered. I was the first one out at the first rapid. When the safety boater paddled up to me, I gave him an 'isn't this great' smile and he said, "Now roll over and kick your fucking feet."

    Only about 10% of the trainees came back for the second weekend. I was one of them. Felt like I'd won something. A chance to rebuild myself. A chance to earn respect and know exactly what that meant. A chance to shed all of the identity issues I'd had up to that point. A chance to learn who I really was with a whitewater river as my trial by fire.

    Then I promptly lost my driver's license, got put on academic probation, and kicked out of my house.

    But I got lucky. Really, really lucky to stumble into that opportunity.

    Then I got lucky again in 1994 when I met Heidi. We worked together at the mall. She's the one who got us to Florida, who encouraged me to sit down at the typewriter and see what came out, who found Seton Hill. Again--pure luck. The chances of her working at the place I returned to once rafting season was over were paper thin. Seriously. But that's another story.

    Seton Hill became a home like Ohiopyle did. A place where people accepted me for who I was. I guess I'm telling you this because I want you to know that there are places out there. If you ever wanted to talk about Seton Hill I'd be more than happy to discuss it with you. It's home.

    Seriously. Email me if you ever want to talk about it. And thank you for the kind words. Sincerely. It took me forty years to figure out who I was. (Kinda.) And I'm getting better at spotting 'my peeps' here at school, and doing everything I can for them.


    1. So sorry to hear about your bad news. There seems to be a lot of that going around lately. One of my best friends was killed earlier this year - on Ash Wednesday to be exact - just crossing the street after lunch. Today another dear friend goes in for a bone marrow transplant in the hopes of surviving leukemia. Funny, when I got so sick back in 2010 we all figured they'd outlive me - and here I am four years later going strong while those that held me up fall... Not funny, but you know what I mean. We just never know. My heart goes out to you in that regard.

      This month it will have taken me 38 years to figure out who I was - or probably more succinctly who I wasn't. I've run the gamut trying to figure it out - and have arrived at a rather happy place. At least I suspect this is what happy is. No, I'll never write that NY Times Bestseller - but I have written several novels. I wrote a play that I was blessed to see produced onstage. And in all that, I realized that I am more of a storyteller than I am an author - and I'm a much better artist than I ever will be a writer. It's all about finding that place that works. Some of us have to do it the hard way (nevermind that I never listen to anyone's well intended advice!) - but other have the opportunity for people like you to come into our lives and offer encouragement at just the right moment. So I am happy to know that you are one of those lighting the way. I like to think I have become one of those people myself.

      I think I am going to have to post "Roll over and kick your fucking feet" up on my inspiration board. If ever there's a bit of life advice that's worth carrying, that is it.

      It's so damned true.