You’ve likely heard of her already: Emily Doe, the woman once referred to as the “unconscious intoxicated woman” in the Brock Turner sexual assault trial. Now you will call her Chanel Miller, the young woman whose victim impact statement resonated so widely that it was shared 11 million times in the 4 days after it was published, and later read aloud by members of the House of Representatives.
While Turner received a lenient sentence, the judge was recalled from the bench and shortly thereafter California passed legislation that mandates tougher sentences for defendants convicted of sexually assaulting unconscious victims.
Ms. Miller answered my questions over email, and I urge you to read this book and talk about it with your family and friends.
Sarah Gelman, Amazon Book Review: Can we talk about the title first? It’s so powerful. Really, it gives me chills. Was this an obvious choice for you or did you deliberate over options?
Chanel Miller: I started out by listing hundreds of titles, Until Today, Tadpole, Emily Doe, Adopt the Pomeranian, Question the Questions. I had spent almost three years writing thousands of words and now I had to sum it all up in three to five words. At first I liked the abstract titles, a phrase that may not make sense until the reader is halfway through the book and there’s a little ah! moment where it clicks. But some titles started to sound like indie band names. Know My Name was a top contender, so my editor told me to type up my own title page, print it out, and put it up. I put it on my refrigerator, got used to seeing those words in tall, bold letters, and knew that it felt right, that it was the one. I like that it’s declarative, it’s a grounded demand. So often survivors come forward because we are pushed, or have to sacrifice our identities in order to be heard, stripped of choice. We all deserve agency to decide when and how to share our stories. In this title, I am stepping forward. I know who I am and I am here.
Your publishing story is unique. Can you tell me about it?
I was grateful to have spoken with many incredible editors after the statement came out. When I spoke to Andrea Schulz at Viking, one thing she’d mentioned that stuck out to me was the element of humor she’d heard in the statement. Humor is really important to me. I did not want to be categorized into a genre, for this to be one dark tale. I wanted all parts of life to be incorporated, to restore myself back to a full spectrum of emotion, and I knew she would allow the space for me to do that.
I am so glad to see hear that you narrated your own audiobook. What was this experience like?
I read it in July 2019, back when it was still just me and the book, before I’d gotten much feedback on my writing. At first I was a little self-conscious about the sound of my voice, about the idea of people listening to me read for hours. I felt like I needed to rush through it. I think the director detected this, so he took me out of the booth, looked me in the eye and said, You’ve written a beautiful book. Give your words the weight they deserve. Let them land. Bring each one home. Let us hear them. It made me emotional, because it hit me finally that, yes, I’d just done an incredible thing. Stop undervaluing yourself. Believe in what you’ve done. Take up all the space and speak with pride. It took six hours a day for five days, but every hour I was coming into myself. I took my time. I took care of every word. I loved every moment of it. I hope that comes through.
Can you talk about the cover art of your book? It’s really beautiful, and at the same time meaningful. Was this your suggestion or the suggestion of your publisher?
The designers, Jason Ramirez and Nayon Cho, had read the book. I was so nervous about what covers they’d present, feared true crime graphics or dramatic silhouettes. Instead, when they thought of survivors, they thought of gold. The Japanese art of kintsugi teaches us that shattered pieces of pottery are not meant to be tossed aside, but mended back together with beauty. Each crack, each scar, should be tended to and celebrated. It inspired me to write the last line on the jacket: The technique shows us that although an object cannot be returned to its original state, fragments can be made whole again.
You lived through the events of this book anonymously, for the most part. What’s changed since you released your name?
I was terrified that this case would overshadow the rest of my life. That if I came forward, people would only see me as one thing, victim. In the book I wanted to show you I am full of stories, layered emotions, memories. Since revealing my name, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. People have made it clear they can see me in full color, that they’re not going to let me be reduced again. I am finally fleshed out and free from hiding. I can be in the world as my whole self. This is life’s greatest gift.
I can only imagine that this book was challenging to write. Were there any parts that were surprisingly hard, or even surprisingly easy?
At first my tone was defensive. I couldn’t let my guard down, I couldn’t speak candidly, I couldn’t tell you about an experience I’d had without having to justify or explain it. I felt nervous that my words were going to be used against me. That his attorney would pick up my book and twist each line to hurt me. When I felt this fear, I’d read letters people had sent to me. I’d remind myself, there are people out there who believe you, who are rooting for you, who are holding down the fort and keeping you protected, so you can keep writing. Focus on the work you need to do. I pushed myself to be honest and open, to show that life is messy, we are human. I’m done shrinking myself. I’m done with the petty excuses used to justify violence. I’m going to speak freely.
You’re in your mid-twenties (correct me if I’m wrong here) and you have made a huge impact on the lives of many people, regardless of whether they knew your name. And now they do. What does your future look like?
I am 27 now and for a while I was bitter that the case was swallowing up my twenties. I thought twenties were meant for exploration and freedom. I felt trapped in the courtroom, my internal life disintegrating. Writing has saved me. It has helped me convert suffering and time that I felt was wasted, into learning, into something valuable I can share, into hard-earned clarity. My therapist said, Everything must run its course. This course was damn long. But I feel like I’m finally at the end of this course, and I have my whole life ahead of me. I feel like sleep is an inconvenience! I love being awake, my life is ripening, and I want to create all the time.