Priscilla Johnson McMillan grew up on the North Shore of Long Island. She received a bachelor's degree in Russian language and literature at Bryn Mawr College in 1950 and a master's degree in Russian studies at Harvard three years later. Her first job was with newly elected Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953, when she helped prepare his maiden speech on the French role in Indochina (later Vietnam).
She then worked as an editor and translator of Russian newspaper articles for the Current Digest of the Soviet Press in New York City. In 1955, anxious to see for herself how Soviet life had changed since the death of Stalin, she went to Russia for four months on a tourist visa and worked as a translator for the New York Times. Two years later, Priscilla returned to Moscow as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance -- her first reporting assignment. She remained there until July 1960, when she and other Americans were expelled by Soviet authorities after the U-2 spy plane incident. She returned in 1962 as a correspondent for The Reporter magazine.
Her first book, Khrushchev and the Arts (MIT Press: 1965), was based on articles she had written for The Reporter and the journal Problems of Communism. But perhaps she is best known for having interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald in 1959 and later publishing the book Marina and Lee (Harper & Row: 1977). McMillan met with Lee Oswald when he was a young American defector staying in the same Moscow hotel. Her research for Marina and Lee began in 1964, just 8 months after the JFK assassination, and involved months of interviews with Marina Oswald in Dallas, Santa Fe, and Sedona, Arizona. Priscilla says she was inspired to write Marina and Lee because she wanted to explain why the soft-spoken young man she had met in Moscow had been motivated to kill the President for whom she once worked.
In 1966 Priscilla married George McMillan, a civil rights teacher and reporter, and lived in Atlanta, Georgia, and Frogmore, South Carolina, while writing Marina and Lee, which appeared over ten years later. During this period she translated the memoir of Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, after her defection to the United States in 1967. She also appeared on Nixon's 'Enemies List' for a contribution she made to the McGovern Presidential campaign in 1972.
During the 1980's, members of the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee of New Mexico approached Priscilla and suggested that she write a new account of the Oppenheimer affair. They offered her no money, but a free hand and access to some of the older scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Priscilla learned a little physics and a lot about the classification system by which the government holds onto its secrets. And she remembered a good deal about her younger days, when Joe McCarthy ran rampant. She is deeply worried about the Bush Administration's violations of the Constitution and hopes that The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer will stand as a warning against a government that excites fear among its people, the better to rob them of their civil liberties.
Besides being a board member of the Council for a Livable World and former Secretary of the Federation of American Scientists, Priscilla McMillan is an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard, and is active in voting rights and environmental causes in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she lives.