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Article by Margaret Randall on Bryce Milligan and Wings Press

"Writer is a marvel of talent, energy"

Column by Cary Clack, San Antonio Express-News, Nov. 29, 2008

By the time the sun sets this evening there are any number of thing that Bryce Milligan may have done. He could have written a chapter or two of his new novel and, if he gets stuck, switch over to a poem that's not quite complete, maybe do a book review, start a new play or children's book or, if suddenly inspired, whip up a song for the CD he's working on.

If the guitar or drums he's playing don't sound right, he might begin making a new guitar or drums before editing the manuscripts and designing the covers for the dozen or so books by other writers his publishing company will publish over the next few months. If he gets bored he may build a new bookshelf and, if he has a spare hour before going to bed, he may indulge his love for science, especially astronomy, by scoping out the stars.

So what did you do today?

The time we're given on this Earth is uncertain and the talents we're blessed with are often untapped. But time, like talent, is what we make of it.

You won't find many people who make better use of their time and talents than Milligan, one of San Antonio's best-known writers and a literary godfather in this community.

The scope of the 55-year-old's career and the range of things he's done are fascinating. To sum up that career, he either is or has been a novelist, essayist, short-story writer, poet, essayist, folk singer/song writer, musician, instrument maker, carpenter, a rare book bibliographer and appraiser, a college English and creative-writing instructor, arts administrator, book and magazine publisher, book designer and publisher and — the least impressive of his jobs — a newspaper columnist.

"Bryce Milligan is the kind of guy you'd like to hate," says award-winning writer Robert Flynn, whose short memoir, "Burying the Farm" was published earlier this year by Milligan's Wings Press. "Not only can he do anything you can do and do it better, he can do things you can't do. I asked him if he could play a musical instrument — I can't — but at least it would be something he couldn't do. Not only can he play a musical instrument, he sings songs that he has written, accompanying himself on instruments that he made. That's hard to like."

For his part, Milligan says, "I'm sure a lot of people think I'm creative but I'm just trying to pay my bills."

At the center of his creativity is his passion for books and the written word that was ignited as a child while reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in a tree in his backyard home in Dallas. The poetry and criticism he's written for adults and the fiction he's written for children and young adults earned him the title of "literary wizard" from Bloomsbury Review.

"Books are everything," he says. "Everything you can do you can learn from books."

Much of what he does begins at the Southtown home he shares with his wife, librarian and writer Mary Guerrero Milligan. It's a neighborhood where, every Christmas season, the Milligans celebrate the Mexican religious Christmas tradition of Las Posadas as Milligan, guitar in hand, leads "pilgrims" door to door in song before ending up at their home for plentiful food, drink and holiday cheer. It's the home where they raised their two children, Michael, an astrophysicist and astronomer, and Brigid, a communications manager for Morgan Stanley in New York.

Milligan's office is out back in a blue carriage house, on a second floor that's a writer's delight with bookshelves holding most of the 20,000 books that he owns. On the walls throughout the several rooms are letters and poems to Milligan signed by the likes of Seamus Heaney, Stephen Spender, Joy Harjo and Robert Bly. There's a thank you note from J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tucked in a corner in one room is a recording studio he's built and where he's recording a CD of folk songs. In the room where he writes are two of his guitars, a music stand with a songbook, and, at his desk on his computer screen, next to a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey, is Milligan's latest literary project.

It's a simple little thing, really: a series of novels about Enheduanna, a woman who was the first-known writer in the history of the world. It's a project Milligan prepared for by spending several years learning cuneiform writing and the Sumerian language of 2,300 B.C. Milligan, fluent in Spanish, also reads in several other languages, including Latin, Greek, Welsh, Norse, Anglo Saxon English, Middle English and Old Irish.

"I want to learn Finnish but it's too far out there," he says.

Even the novel he's writing and the desk he's writing it on are a cross-fertilization of his creativity. Last spring, while working on the book, he took a break to retrieve a cedar tree cut down across the alley and made his new desk out of it.

"Everything is related to creativity," says Milligan. "When I can't write, I'll build something."

In addition to his own work, Milligan edits, designs and markets the publications produced by Wings Press, his highly respected publishing company, which was profiled last year in Poets & Writers Magazine. He can only publish a very small number of the 60-70 submissions he gets each week. He calls some of the manuscripts he has to turn down "wonderful stuff" and calls what he does at Wings Press "necessary work, especially for young writers, non-writers and people of different ethnicities, faiths and perspectives who wouldn't make it into the mainstream press.

"I'm attracted to people who are creative," he says.

Writer Flynn says of Milligan, "He's every writer's friend, not just as a friend who can do anything you can and not talk about it, but as moral and morale supporter.

Milligan's Renaissance qualities are rooted in believing in himself. "I never thought that I couldn't do something," he says.

And yet . . .

Recently, Milligan was showing off the gazebo he built over the summer. The gazebo was marvelously crafted but then Milligan looked with disappointment at his yard and said, "I can't grow grass."

Aha!

Cary Clack's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. To leave him a message call (210) 350-3486 or e-mail at cclack@express-news.net

Music Videos

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Milligan has twice been a finalist in the Kerrville New Folks songwriting competition. He credits much of what he knows about songwriting to hanging out in the tuning room at the Rubaiyat in Dallas as a young teen in the late 1960s.

About Bryce Milligan

Bryce MilliganBorn in Dallas, Texas, Bryce Milligan has lived in San Antonio since 1977. Primarily a poet, he has been the publisher, editor and book designer for Wings Press since 1995. But he has worn a lot of hats in his life. Among other things, he has been a folksinger, a luthier, a carpenter, a rare book bibliographer and appraiser, a college English and creative writing instructor, a poet-in-the-schools, an arts administrator, and a book and magazine editor. As a writer, he has been a newspaper columnist, a freelance journalist, a scholar, a novelist, a poet, a playwright, and an essayist. It has been an interesting life.

He has taught creative writing workshops from California to Prague. Milligan received the Gemini Ink "Award for Literary Excellence" (2011) and the St. Mary’s University President’s Peace Commission’s "Art of Peace Award" (2012) for "creating work that enhances human understanding through the arts."

Bloomsbury Review once called him a "literary wizard."

Milligan's literary papers are archived at the San Antonio Authors Collection of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Institute of Texan Cultures.

Milligan is also the author of five full-length collections of poetry, Daysleepers & Other Poems (1984), Litany Sung at Hell's Gate (1991), Working the Stone (Wings Press, 1994), and Lost and Certain of It(London: Aark Arts, 2006), and Take to the Highway: Arabesques for Travelers (West End Press, 2016). Chapbooks and broadsides include Recasting (Gemini Ink, 2011), Alms for Oblivion: A Poem in Seven Parts, illustrated by Jim Harter (London: Aark Arts, 2003), and Mahogany Blues (School by the River Press, 2016). A recording of songs was released in 1990: From Inside the Tree (Calberg Productions).

Milligan is the author of five historical novels and short story collections for young adults, including With the Wind, Kevin Dolan (Corona Publishing, 1987), which received the Texas Library Association's first Lone Star Book Award in 1990. It was translated into German and published there in 1994.

He is the author of two books for children: The Prince of Ireland and the Three Magic Stallions (Holiday House, 2003) and Brigid's Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story (Eerdmans, 2002), which was a "Best of the Year" pick by both Bank Street College and Publishers Weekly.

Milligan is also the author of five locally produced plays and well over 2,000 articles, essays, and reviews which have appeared mainly in the Southwest, but also as far afield as The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.

Milligan holds a M.A. in language and linguistics (Anglo-Saxon and Old Irish) from the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently studying ancient Sumerian.

He has written extensively about Latino/Latina literature. Milligan is the primary editor (co-editors are Angela de Hoyos and Mary Guerrero Milligan) of Daughters of the Fifth Sun: A Collection of Latina Fiction and Poetry (Putnam/Riverhead, 1995, paper, 1996). Daughters of the Fifth Sun spent three years on the New York Public Library's "Best Books for the Teen Age" list. He is also the editor of a CD Rom, American Journeys: The Hispanic American Experience (Primary Source Media, 1995). A second major anthology of Latina poetry edited by Milligan was ¡Floricanto Si! - A Collection of Latina Poetry (Penguin, 1997).

The founding editor of Pax: A Journal for Peace through Culture (1983-1987) and Vortex: A Critical Review (1986-1990), he became in 1995 the publisher/editor of Wings Press, one of the oldest continually operating small presses in Texas. Wings Press has published over 200 books since 1995, in all genres, with a focus on multicultural literature. Its authors hail from all over the Americas, including 26 different states (and including half a dozen state poets laureate). Wings Press has been profiled in numerous publications, including Poets & Writers Magazine and the Huffington Post.

Milligan was the book critic for the San Antonio Express News from 1982 to 1987, and for the San Antonio Light from 1987 to 1990.

In 1985, Milligan co-founded (with Sandra Cisneros) the Annual Texas Small Press Book Fair, an event which evolved into the San Antonio Inter-American Book Fair and Literary Festival under the direction of Rosemary Catacalos. Milligan directed the bookfairs and the literature program at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio 1985-1986 and 1994-2001. Other annual events created and directed by Milligan included "Hijas del Quinto Sol: Studies in Latina Literature and Identity" (later "Latina Letters") a conference co-hosted by St. Mary's University that ran for over ten years, and a PBS-televised poetry slam for young adults.

Milligan and his wife of 41 years, short story writer and librarian Mary Guerrero Milligan, live in a 130-year-old house in downtown San Antonio. They have two grown children.

A poet's poet: Critics on the Poetry

On the Children's Books

On the Historical Novels

On the Plays

On the Songwriter

On the Literary Activist

On the Teacher

Books By Bryce Milligan