Was Arthur Miller "the greatest playwright of the 20th century"?

The life and work of Arthur Miller

Given the level of talent across the field it's hard not to take issue with Vaclav Havel's assertion that Arthur Miller is "the greatest playwright of the 20th century". Yet the fact that a writer as accomplished as Havel would make such a bold claim points to just how great a figure Miller is.

The middle child of a Polish-Jewish family, Miller was born in Harlem in 1915. This allowed him to witness, first hand, the collapse of Wall Street in the neighbouring borough of Manhattan, where his family now lived. This economic catastrophe and the resulting Great Depression remade the United States and kick-started probably the darkest period in modern human history.

The Millers themselves lost almost everything in the Wall Street collapse and Arthur went from the lap of luxury to delivering bread before school to help the family make ends meet. This experience of hardship had an incredible impact on Miller, the traces of which can be found throughout his work.

Possessed of great writing potential Miller began to study journalism at the University of Michigan. It was here that Miller found his calling as an author for the stage after composing his first play, No Villain. This work would go on to win the Avery Hopwood Award. The damage had been before this early recognition, though, and Miller switched his major to English.

No Villain would become the first in a long list of socially conscious plays that would freely flow from Miler's pen. By the time of his death in 2005, at the ripe old age of 89, Miller had composed dozens of plays, radio dramas, screenplays, as well as novels, novellas, short stories, and essays. 

An incredibly prolific man of letters Miller, is best known for his capturing of the life of the average American. His masterwork, Death of a Salesman, embodies this legacy most. Winning numerous Tony Awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this tragic tale of Willy Loman helped to explore the potentially toxic nature of the American Dream. 

Though the average man was the focus of Miller's work, his own life was far from ordinary.

Join Patrick as he talks with a panel about the life and legacy of this giant of American literature who bestrode the worlds of cinema, theater, and journalism.