After a lifetime of working in technology, with travel that took him all over Asia, James Whipple Miller started an improbable new career after settling in Chestnut Hill eight years ago. He founded a publishing company.
After a lifetime of working in technology, with travel that took him all over Asia, James Whipple Miller started an improbable new career after settling in Chestnut Hill eight years ago.
He founded a publishing company. And now, four months after his November launch, Chestnut Hill Press has already published six books that focus on the arts.
“God bless the Quakers and GFS,” he said during a recent interview. “I started loving literature, poetry and art more than 50 years ago, then I spent four or five decades pursuing technology and entrepreneurship. But I was always interested in writing, and now I am back.”
Born in 1945, Miller grew up near Chicago and attended Yale University as an undergraduate. Eventually, he earned a doctorate degree in Chinese Studies from Princeton University – a choice he made as a result of his opposition to the Vietnam War.
“As a sophomore, I was against the war in Vietnam and was interested in the Peace Corps,” he said. “A professor told me not to join it, though. He told me to choose a career where you can do just as much good as you would in the Peace Corps, so I chose Chinese studies all the way through to a doctorate.”
His lottery number did not get him out of the draft, he said.
“But at age 22 I was married and had a child. That seemed a lot better than going to Canada or Vietnam.”
Miller is not a complete stranger to publishing. He spent six years as an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, during which time he worked for the Asian Humanities Press. He then spent five years working as the editor-in-chief of the Digest of Financial Planning Ideas in Oakland, California, a multi-media operation. Next he edited a publication for software engineers, helping him build up a helpful Rolodex of techies and venture capitalists. He also raised money for Chinese entrepreneurs during this time, which is what eventually led him to move to China in 1993.
Fluent in Mandarin, Miller spent 20 years doing business in China, starting as a vice president for an early-stage telecom equipment company, then as COO of a Hong Kong-based wireless services company, then finally as CEO of a venture-funded interactive media technology company. He also served as a director of early-stage companies in China and India until his retirement in 2013.
Next, he started a company that licensed technology to cable companies in China, which he wound up having to sell at a loss.
“Turns out I didn’t understand well enough the importance of personal relationships in China,” he said. “But it was a marvelous experience.”
And he has no regrets, he said.
“I met a lot of people in rural areas that are still primitive. Their villages are not much different from the way they were described in Chinese poetry 2500 years ago – wooden houses, containers that gather rain, wooden tools, pigs and chickens running around.’
In one of his trips, he said, he was the first non-Asian person who had set foot in that village since World War II.
“The women there had never seen a Western person in real life, only in pictures,” he said. “These villages are so old, there are marked graves that go back thousands of years. You can go to see the grave of Confucius, for example.”
His language fluency opened many doors.
“Because I speak Mandarin, I could get into conversations with anyone,” said Miller. “I was in a Beijing writers group, for example, and also ran a company in Guangzhou, a port city in South China.
“I never felt out of place there and loved the cuisine, " he continued. “There are so many types and styles of food in China. Not like what you get in Chinese restaurants here, which tends to be Americanized.”
When Miller returned to the U.S. in 2013, he started an education nonprofit on the West Coast. Then, in a one-in-a-million coincidence, he bumped into Alden Heck, a Philadelphia resident whom he had met 50 years earlier at Yale and who now taught art at Germantown Friends School.
Eight years ago, their romance blossomed, and Miller moved to Chestnut Hill to be with Heck. They have been together ever since. (Heck's son, Ted, is a physics professor at Arcadia University and an illustrator; Alden's daughter, Gray, is the chef/owner of Cake, 8501 Germantown Ave.)
Chestnut Hill Press has so far published books about Nadia Boulanger, the first woman to conduct major symphony orchestras, two by Romuald Roman, a Polish-born author who formerly lived in Chestnut Hill; and a memoir by Idil Biret, one of the greatest classical pianists of the last century.
For more information about the books, visit chestnuthillpress.com. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com