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All You Ever Wanted To Know About Wings Press

Publisher Bryce Milligan on Wings Press

The Old Wings Press Logo
-- The old Wings Press Logo

All Wings Press titles are distributed to the trade by the Indpendent Publishers Group, www.ipgbook.com

"The best little publishing house in Texas." – Bloomsbury Review

"Without publishers like Wings, Latino and Chicano literature would remain in a deep well in America." – Ramón Renteria, El Paso Times Book Editor

"At Wings, 'diversity' is about the preservation and propagation of distinctive literature." – Dallas Morning News

From the Bloomsbury Review, by Jeff Biggers:

Wings Press [is] the best little publishing house in Texas. Led by the indefatigable publisher Bryce Milligan, a true San Antonio hero and literary wizard, Wings Press has ventured beyond its south-by-southwestern borders to launch a series of original publications and reprints that deserve as much national recognition and distribution as possible.

From the Dallas Morning News, by Tom Mayo:

"Consider Wings Press in San Antonio. Wings' publisher, Bryce Milligan, is justifiably proud of a book list that includes the lyrics of Townes Van Zandt, the Christmas poems of Donald Hall, and works by established and emerging Latino and Latina poets. Ironically, it is the smaller presses that can afford to bring out books by new voices, and at Wings, "diversity" is about the preservation and propagation of distinctive literature from Texas and the Southwest. In addition to the small presses' up-front commitment to bring out a book, Mr. Milligan says they are able to support a title by keeping it in print for a far longer time, and with far fewer sales, than the big publishing houses."

Something like a Mission Statement

Wings Press attempts to produce multicultural books, ebooks, fine chapbooks, and broadsides that, we hope, enlighten the human spirit and enliven the mind. Everyone ever associated with Wings has been or is a writer, and we know well that writing is a transformational art form capable of changing the world, primarily by allowing us to glimpse something of each other's souls. Good writing is innovative, insightful, broad-minded and interesting. But most of all it is honest. Likewise, Wings Press is committed to treating the planet itself as a partner. Thus the press uses as much recycled material as possible, from the paper on which the books are printed to the boxes in which they are shipped. All our inks are soy and vegetable based.

A Short History of Wings Press

1975 – 2010: Celebrating 35 years of fine literature in Texas

Origins

Wings Press evolved during the small press movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the founders of Wings Press was Joanie Whitebird, who was active in the formation of COSMEP (Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers). Whitebird was the driving force behind the first truly multicultural anthology of contemporary Texas poetry, Travois, published in 1975 as a cooperative venture between the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and another small Texas publisher, Thorp Springs Press. Wings Press was founded that same year by Joseph F. Lomax (Editor and Publisher) and Joanie Whitebird (Editor) as "an informal association of artists and cultural mythologists dedicated to the preservation of the literature of Texas."

Joanie WhitebirdAuthors published from 1975 to 1993 included such notables as Judson Crews, Vassar Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, Robert Phillips, and singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt. During those years, Wings Press published approximately 50 books by 42 authors. These were primarily collections of poetry, though works of fiction, history, and music were published as well. Many of the books were hand-sewn, printed by both offset press and/or letterpress. The poetry almost always had letterpress covers. Editions ranged from 200 to 5,000 copies. After Joseph Lomax died, Joanie Whitebird took over as publisher.

In 1993, Joanie designed and published a particularly beautiful book, Working the Stone, a poetry collection by Bryce Milligan. The letterpress cover was deckled-edged and one hundred copies of the book had covers hand-tinted by the poet-artist, Angela de Hoyos. But Joanie Whitebird's health was in decline and two years later (in 1995) she sold the press to Milligan. After one last desperate road trip that took her from Houston to Seattle to Mexico to London, Joanie died in 2000.

Here is how she was eulogized

Joanie Whitebird was an old-fashioned fence hater, a wire-cutter, a woman in love with the open road, with open relationships, with open futures fraught with possibilities. Like that line in Pat Garvey's song, Joanie believed that "the treasure's not the taking, it's the lovin' of the game." She understood hard traveling better than almost anyone I've ever known, and she knew that being an outlaw poet and publisher in America demanded not only heart and soul, but absolute honesty. She enjoyed being a legend, and she deeply regretted the tremendous inconvenience it was to be numbered among her friends. But that never stopped her from showing up in the middle of the night with her trailer and her wolf hound and her boyfriends and her stories. She was always on the way to somewhere else, and she was always surprised by what lay around the next bend in the road. Anyone with eyes could see that Joanie was in a vortex without any exit; yet I am certain that when Death arrived, she must have said, "What the hell? What are you doing here?" Fare forward, Joanie, fare forward.–– Bryce Milligan, in The Texas Observer, October 2000

New Directions, 1995 - 2002

The first title to be published by Wings Press under Milligan's direction was This Promiscuous Light (1996), a 126-page anthology of young women poets (all under 25 at the time) from San Antonio. Wings has long been known as a "discovery press" and it is interesting to note that of the six poets included, five have gone on to publish books on their own. Other early titles included Corazón del Norte: A Selection of North Texas Latino Writing (1996, 2nd. ed. revised, 1997), Guadalupe and the Kaleidoscopic Screamer, fiction and poetry by Sheila Sánchez-Hatch (1996), Blessed Bastard: A Novel of Sir Galahad, by University of Texas professor Ruth P.M. Lehmann (1997), and Garabato Poems by Virgil Suárez (1999).

A special moment for Wings came in 1999 with the publication of Donald Hall's Winter Poems from Eagle Pond. Hall and his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, had for several years commissioned a letterpress broadside of one of Don's poems to be given as Christmas gifts. Wings Press reprinted these in a linited edition chapbook, illustrated with woodcuts by Barry Moser, hand bound in handmade paper covers that incorporated red maple leaves gathered by the Hall grandchildren. An interesting departure from pure literature for the press was the 1999 publication of Biblical Hebrew: An Analytical Introduction, by Winfred Lehman, Esther Raizin, and Helen J.J. Hewitt. The book's authors (all professors of linguistics at the University of Texas) came from three different faiths; thus the book reflected a reverence for the roots of language as well as a non-denominational approach to these ancient religious texts.

Seven titles in the Premio Poesía Tejana series were published, 1999-2002. This award, dedicated to Latina poets under the age of 30 having Texas roots or residence, consisted of the publication of a substantial chapbook in a signed and numbered edition of 500 copies and a cash prize. Each author received 100 copies of their book in lieu of royalties on the first printing. Statistically, young "minority" poets have more difficulty than any other category of writer in getting a first book published. Of the seven authors published in this series, all have continued to write and publish.

In 2001, Wings published what would become its best selling poetry title, Carmen Tafolla's Sonnets and Salsa. In 2004 this title was revised and expanded. Sonnets and Salsa has sold over 10,000 copies. Carmen is also the author of Wings's first illustrated children's book, Baby Coyote and the Old Woman / El coyotito y la viejita, which went into its third printing in 2005.

Another "star" writer to enter the Wings list was Cecile Pineda, the first Latina author to break into the major New York houses. Beginning in 2001, Wings began a project to republish Pineda's well-known novels, Face, The Love Queen of the Amazon, and Frieze, as well as three new works, her memoir of childhood, Fishlight, and two "mononovels," Bardo99 and Redoubt. Each volume features a different cover photograph by Kathy Vargas, herself a long-time fan of Pineda's fiction. As the Bloomsbury Review wrote in September 2004: "Cecile Pineda is an American original, a literary treasure, and her prodigiously inventive and important work . . . deserves a place in the forefront of American literature."

Wings authors come from a variety of heritages, including Anglo, Black, Chicano/Latina (including roots in Cuba, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico), Palestinian and Jewish, from all over the U.S. -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and, of course, Texas. They range from completely unknown writers to a former poet laureate of Texas (James Hoggard) to a former Poet Laureate of the United States (Donald Hall) to radical journalists (Roberto Rodriguez) to human rights activists (Marjorie Agosín) to the outright beloved (Naomi Shihab Nye).

The Breakthrough Years, 2003-2005

The press gained national attention (including a full-page story in Publishers Weekly, and significant reviews in newspapers around the country) with the publication of John Howard Griffin's posthumous novel, Street of the Seven Angels. The next year, Wings brought out the definitive edition of Griffin's classic work, Black Like Me, with a foreword by Studs Terkel and several previously unseen historical photographs. The book received starred reviews in trade and library journals. At this point, all Wings Press titles began to be distributed by national firms like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Brodart, et al., assuring the availability of the titles in any bookstore in America. Our primary distributor from 1998 to 2006 was Small Press Distribution. They were great folks, but by 2006 the press needed more than they could provide and we switched to the Independent Publishers Group in Chicago. And they turned out to be great folks too!

In 2003, an old friend re-appeared on the scene. Robert Bonazzi, executor of the Griffin estate and the long-time publisher / editor of Latitudes Press, settled in San Antonio. Milligan and Bonazzi had published the literary journal, Vortex: A Critical Review, in the late-80s. Having corresponded on paper for nearly 25 years, it was cinch that the two would work well together bringing out the Griffin books and working on other projects. Bonazzi has been invaluable to both the press and its publisher/editor/designer/publicist/accountant/shipping clerk. It helps a great deal to have another literary mind around to bounce ideas around, not to mention proofing! Bonazzi brought several new authors to the press as well, including Russell Hardin and John Kellin, as well as an artist, Andrea Belag, whose work graces numerous book covers.

Other important titles in 2004 included two anthologies, Falling from Grace in Texas: A Literary Response to the Demise of Paradise, edited by Rick Bass and Paul Christensen, and Jump-Start Playworks, a collection of multicultural plays and performance pieces developed at San Antonio's Jump-Start Performance Co. Playworks was edited by playwright Sterling Houston, a good friend for many years.

2005 saw the publication of four new poetry books and a CD: Tracking the Morning by Robert Fink (preface by Donald Hall), Wearing the River by James Hoggard (former poet laureate of the state of Texas and twice president of the Texas Institute of Letters), Tropical Green by Chip Dameron, and Scattered Risks by Pamela Uschuk, recipient of the Struga International Poetry Prize and (at that time) director of the Center for Women Writers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Dameron, Hoggard, and Uschuk have all published other books with Wings in the past. Finally, we published a CD of poetry and jazz by Chicano legend Raœl Salinas (raœlrsalinas) and New York saxophonist Fred Ho. As if that were not political enough, 2005 also saw the arrival of Ana Castillo's play about the torture of Sister Dianna Ortiz, Psst! ... I Have Something to Tell You, Mi Amor.

2006 saw the publication of three award-winning hardback books by Marjorie Agos’n, Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Brenda Webster. Agos’nÕs book, Among the Angels of Memory / Entre los Ángeles de la memoria, is an expanded edition of her earlier Wings book The Angel of Memory. It is the basis of an operetta. Agos’n is the recipient of numerous literary and human rights prizes. In May 2007, at Book Expo in New York, Among the Angels of Memory was awarded the Latino Book Award for the best book of poetry in Spanish. It also picked up a starred review in Criticas!

Lorna Dee Cervantes' first book in 14 years, DRIVE: The First Quartet, also came out in 2006. It too was honored with a Latino Book Award (runner up, best book of poetry in English), and later was awarded the Balcones Poetry Prize. Cervantes' DRIVE debuted with a major performance / reading at the National Museum of Women in the Arts – a virtually unprecedented event for a "small press" from the hinterlands. The Museum event was attended by significant publicity, including an article in their on-line journal, Women in the Arts (1/4 million recipients). DRIVE was also featured in a touring NEA-funded exhibit of "Latino artists and writers in dialogue," mounted by the University of Notre Dame. The publication of DRIVE — highly anticipated among Latina readers and scholars for several years — was called a "the Latino publishing event of the year" (Prof. Francisco Arag—n, Univ. of Notre Dame) and "a landmark work" (Martín Espada).

(Still being written . . .)