Now Available from Allison & Busby
A Novel of Mary Sidney Herbert,
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Historical Novelist and Award-Winning Author
After thirty years as a scholar of early modern women, I realized that my work wasn’t close to being complete as long as the wider public had no awareness of the remarkable women authors who were published and read in the time of Shakespeare.
IMPERFECT ALCHEMIST is the first in a projected series of novels centered on these women, called Shakespeare’s Sisters – celebrating them not simply for their relation to men (like the wives of Henry VIII) but for their own voices.
This novel is an imaginative re-invention of the extraordinary life of Mary Sidney Herbert, Renaissance pioneer – friend of Queen Elizabeth, visionary scientist, advocate for women writers, and scandalous lover of a much younger man. Fact and fiction blend as the likes of Walter Raleigh, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare rub shoulders with courtiers and commoners, servants and savants, including a young woman artist who sees beyond the real.
Interested in how this novel came to be? See my pieces, “Imagining Mary” and “Imperfect Alchemist: Writing Women’s Voices”.
“To have lived a free life in London in the 16th century would have meant, for a woman who was poet and playwright, a nervous stress and dilemma which might well have killed her.”
- Virginia Woolf (1929)
I was born in Los Angeles, California, on a street named “Enchanted Way.” I am descended on my mother’s side from a Japanese shogun of the late 1500s and on my father’s side from Dutch-English settlers who came to the American colonies in the Mayflower era. Being aware of what my ancestors were doing while Mary Sidney Herbert was alive has added resonance to the process of composing this novel. I wrote my first novel at the age of twelve – an 80-page hand-written mystery set in the England of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.
Captivated by Shakespeare and Renaissance England, I produced an undergraduate senior thesis at Princeton on the plays of Christopher Marlowe, and a doctoral dissertation at Harvard on the works of Sir Philip Sidney and his niece Lady Mary Wroth, the first woman to publish a sonnet sequence and a prose romance in Shakespeare’s England. My first book, Changing the Subject, placed Wroth’s writings in relation to other Renaissance women authors such as Sidney’s sister, Mary Sidney Herbert – women whose writings brought women’s lives to light and their voices to life.
I had four children before earning tenure at the University of Arizona, where I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of forty. I have been guided in moving forward by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn in practicing mindfulness as a mother, author, teacher, and person of color.
I live in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I teach at Smith College on Shakespeare and “Shakespeare’s Sisters.” I am the recipient of the Sherrerd Award for Distinguished Teaching, and three of my previous books have received awards from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender.
"Be the Empress of the world, commanding the Empire of your own mind."
- Mary Wroth (1621)
Owl in the Desert
Queen of Masquerade
Talks, Interviews, & Reviews
- Interviews and Talks
Italian edition of Imperfect Alchemist available now!
For fans of IMPERFECT ALCHEMIST, I’m happy to announce the forthcoming publication on September 13 of the first Italian edition in translation: L’ALCHIMISTA IMPERFETTA!
Mary Wroth’s play, Love’s Victory, to be performed live at Penshurst Place this fall
I’m thrilled to share the news that Mary Wroth’s play, Love’s Victory, will be performed live at Penshurst Place this fall, at the conference on …
Upcoming conference at Penshurst Place focuses attention on Sidney-Herbert family
I’m excited to share the news of an upcoming conference at Penshurst Place that focuses attention on Mary Wroth, England’s first female fiction writer, as …
Mary Wroth, Urania, and STRANGE LABYRINTH
Mary Wroth’s prose romance, Urania, created such a scandal when she published it in 1621 that she was labelled a “hermaphrodite” by fellow courtiers (for …
News about Naomi’s newest novel
I’m happy to share that, after a six-month hiatus from social media, I’ve completed revisions of a draft of my newest novel, now titled STRANGE …
Naomi Miller discusses the composition of STRANGE LABYRINTH, the sequel to Imperfect Alchemist
In the article below, originally printed in the Sidney Journal, Naomi Miller discusses the composition of STRANGE LABYRINTH, the sequel to Imperfect Alchemist, which tells …