Ralph J. Mills, Jr. (1931-2007) was a poet, critic and teacher. Born on December 16, 1931 to Eileen and Ralph J. Mills, he grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois and was interested in music and poetry as a child. Mills was educated at Lake Forest College (B.A. 1954) and Northwestern University (M.A. 1956, Ph.D. 1963); he also attended Oxford University during his graduate studies.
Mills began teaching literature in 1957 as a graduate student at Northwestern. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved on to the University of Chicago in 1959, serving on the Committee on Social Thought. It was during his time at University of Chicago that he met Helen Harvey, then a student. They married in 1959. In 1965, Mills left University of Chicago for the University of Illinois-Chicago, where he taught poetry among a variety of other subjects from 1965-1997. He became Professor Emeritus of English in 1997.
As a poet, Mills worked in a terse, observative style influenced by the Objectivist movement. His volumes of poetry won numerous awards, including the the Society of Midland Authors prize for poetry (Living with Distance, 1979), the Carl Sandburg prize for poetry (March Light, 1983) and the Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Award (Grasses Standing: Selected Poems, 2000). Mills is also noted for his critical essays on twentieth-century poets such as Theodore Roethke and Richard Eberhart. A collected volume of these works, Essays on Poetry, was published in 2003. His other books of criticism include Contemporary American Poetry (1965) and Cry of the Human: Contemporary American Poetry (1975); Mills also published editions of Theodore Roethke and David Ignatow.
Mills passed away on August 18, 2007 in Park Ridge, Illinois. He was survived by his wife, Helen Harvey Mills, and their children and grandchildren.
From the guide to the Mills, Ralph J., Jr. Papers, 1918-2009, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)