Joe Miller

Author of
  • Cross-X

Joe Miller’s first book, Cross-X, which chronicles a season with the Central High School debate squad, was published in 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It was named one of the best books of the year by the Chicago Tribune, Kansas City Star and, and won the William Rockhill Nelson Award and the Harry Chapin Media Award for nonfiction. He has twice been a finalist for the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism and the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards. He lives in Kansas City with his wife, cats and dogs.

Follow Joe

Books by Joe


The Amazing True Story of How the Most Unlikely Team From the Most Unlikely of Places Overcame Staggering Obstacles at Home and at School To Challenge the Debate Community on Race, Power and Education

By almost all measures, Central is just another failing inner-city school. Ninety-nine percent of the students are minorities. Only one in three graduate. Test scores are so low that Missouri bureaucrats have declared the school “academically deficient.” But week after week, a crew of Central kids heads off to debate tournaments in suburbs across the Midwest and South, where they routinely beat teams from top-ranked schools. In a game of fast-talking, wit, and sheer brilliance, these students close the achievement gap between black and white students—an accomplishment that educators and policy makers across the country have been striving toward for years.

Here is the riveting and poignant story of four debaters and their coach as they battle formidable opponents from elite prep schools, bureaucrats who seem maddeningly determined to hold them back, friends and family who are mired in poverty and drug addiction, and—perhaps most daunting—their own self-destructive choices. In the end, Miller finds himself on a campaign to change debate itself, certain that these students from the Eastside of Kansas City may be the saviors of a game that is intrinsic to American democracy.

Praise for Cross-X

**Starred Review. For anyone who thinks of high school debate and envisions nerdy teens, the story of the Kansas City Central debate squad will be eye-opening. Despite the inner-city school’s academic deficiencies, and the students’ own turbulent home lives, the young African-American debaters have been able to carve out a sphere of success for themselves—in part by making the racial issues surrounding their participation a key part of their arguments. Miller, a local reporter, spends most of his time with two teams of debaters: underclassmen Ebony and Antoine, who are still learning the ropes, and seniors Marcus and Brandon, working their way toward a national championship in Atlanta. Miller embeds himself deep into their lives and is forthright about how his journalistic objectivity slowly eroded. The reporting is both lively and engrossing, and … the book encourages most readers to learn more about these remarkable teens.

Publisher’s Weekly

Kansas City’s Central High is a designated underachieving Missouri school with a dismal record. It has, however, a strong debate team that has qualified to compete in the Tournament of Champions on the national level. Miller spent several years in the city’s debate scene while writing this book, although his primary focus here is on one season with the top team. He follows the students as they cope with the highs and lows. To his credit, the author admits that his journalistic objectivity was compromised by spending so much time with his subjects. However, it is that commitment that makes this book an engaging read. Debate on the national circuit is political, occasionally nasty, and as much about style as it is about substance, and Miller exposes these facets, while taking readers into the lives of four teens surviving in a poor school and poor homes. The story is about race, teens, and the art and science of debate; it is also an indictment of public education.

Mary Ann Harlan, School Library Journal
Read More