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Literary San Antonio book coverLiterary San Antonio

by Bryce Milligan

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Hardback, 452 pages


Please use this site only for SIGNED COPIES. The trade editon is available from bookstores and standard online retailers

Copies purchased on this site will be signed by the editor, Bryce Milligan, and by two contributors, Rosemary Catacalos and Carmen Tafolla, the first two Latina Poets Laureate of Texas.

Literary San Antonio is a collection of writing about San Antonio, by San Antonio poets, fiction writers, playwrights, journalists, historians, political writers, and 18th and 19th century travelers. It covers three centuries of writing done in this place, and includes work by Zebulon Pike, Frederick Law Olmsted, Madam Candelaria, Antonio Menchaca, Santiago Tafolla, Sidney Lanier, O. Henry, Emma Tenayuca, Josephina Niggli, Jan Jarboe Russell, Angela De Hoyos, Carmen Tafolla, Evangelina Vigil, Rosemary Catacalos, Naomi Shihab Nye, Wendy Barker, Robert Bonazzi, Frank Jennings, Maury Maverick, Sr., Carol Coffee Reposa, Jenny Browne, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Amalia Ortiz, Deborah Parédez, Jesse Cardona, Celeste Guzmán Mendoza, Mariana Aitches, Jim LaVilla-Havelin, Steven G. Kellman, Sterling Houston, Cary Clack, Ricardo Sánchez, Jay Brandon, Stephen Harrigan, Geoff Rips, Nan Cuba, Rick Riordan, and Sandra Cisneros. Also, an historical introduction by Bryce Milligan.


"This city, with its winding, still-sleepy river and its story-shrouded springs; its ancient acequias and missions, now acknowledged as valued 'world heritage' sites; its sacred battle grounds and historic military forts and bases; its several unique neighborhoods and barrios that have produced and been celebrated by generations of writers; its rich heritage of heroism and revolutionary passion; its endlessly celebratory ability to revel in its multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual roots and branches ... this city is a good place to write."

Critical Praise

  • Literary San Antonio documents the complex and reciprocal interaction of Tejano and Anglo writers. It records how they have maintained and renovated their particular literary traditions while sustaining a diverse bi-cultural heritage. This compelling and powerful anthology provides a historic and social context for understanding the enduring and enchanting allure of San Antonio. A break-through, foundational and necessary book.

    — Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, Ph.D., Independent Scholar of Latino Arts and Culture

  • Bryce Milligan offers us a guiding thread for a profound journey celebrating this place. We are led from sacred pre-Columbian song to the Missions, the Mexican Revolution, the Chicano Movement, and our own time, each voice a note in the literary music of a great transcultural city. This book is who we have been in the place we love. It also points the way to who we may yet become. ¡Adelante!

    — Rosemary Catacalos, author of Again for the First Time and Begin Here; 2013 Texas Poet Laureate

  • San Antonio has been labeled Alamo City, Military City, Every Texan's Second Home Town, Big City Collection of Little Towns. It could well have been called Literary City, although I had never thought of it that way before reading Literary San Antonio. I was living in a city with the ghosts of Frederick Law Olmstead, Zebulon Pike, and Sidney Lanier and neighbors Wendy Barker and Stephen Kellman. San Antonio could also be called the City of Poets, as they outnumber mariachis with five Texas Poet Laureates plus Evangelina Vigil, Robert Bonazzi, Carol Coffee Reposa, Jacinto Jesus Cardona and Jenny Browne, and the late lamented Angela De Hoyos. However, the prose writers win the championship belt for published words anchored at one end by O. Henry and the other by Stephen Harrigan, and a middle bulging with Sandra Cisneros, Jay Brandon, Rick Riordan, Mary Guerrero Milligan. Literary San Antonio can go mano a mano with any city in Texas.

    — Robert Flynn, author of North to Yesterday and Wanderer Springs; former president of the Texas Institute of Letters


  • Feliz cumpleaños a San Antonio, "ciudad-reina de la frontera"

    Lone Star Literary LifeFeb. 25, 2018

    Special to the [Lone Star Literary Life]

    Reviewed by Michelle Newby

    Feliz cumpleaƱos a San Antonio, "ciudad-reina de la frontera."

    Literary San Antonio is a handsome, oversized edition, the cover graced by an image of the "enchilada-red" façade of the central San Antonio Public Library. The latest in Texas Christian University Press's Literary Cities series, Literary San Antonio is edited by Bryce Milligan, the publisher, editor, and book designer at Wings Press since 1995. Milligan, a resident of San Antonio since 1977, is also a poet, folk singer, and luthier, among too many callings to count. Unafraid to rouse a few rabbles, Milligan is a marvel of arts energy and a blessing to San Antonio. Married to librarian and author Mary Guerrero Milligan, he dedicates Literary San Antonio to her, "una verdadera hija de este pueblo," and credits her for his love of cultura.

    Literary San Antonio is divided into five parts: Historical Writing, Journalism and Political Essays, Poetry, Drama, and Fiction. The pieces, chosen to represent the "multiethnic, multilingual, cosmopolitan culture of the city that drew writers and artists," are diverse in subject and genre, and rich in place. Featured writers include poets Carmen Tafolla ("This river here / is full of me and mine"), Jim LaVilla-Havelin, Amalia Ortiz, and Robert Bonazzi; journalists Frederick Law Olmsted, who in the nineteenth century compared San Antonio favorably to New Orleans for "picturesque interest ... and antiquated foreignness," and Jan Jarboe Russell, who wrote in the twenty-first, "Besieged by critics on all sides, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas have once again vowed to fight to the death." Novelists include thriller writer Jay Brandon, historical fiction writer Stephen Harrigan, everyone's favorite children's fantasy author Rick Riordan, and the queen of everything, Sandra Cisneros.

    Milligan possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject and a sharp wit. His introduction is a feast of literary history. He begins at the beginning with songs in indigenous Coahuiltecan languages, for the area has been occupied for approximately 15,000 years. Milligan covers the first successful newspapers in San Antonio in the 1850s, to La Prensa, which was published for fifty years, begun in 1913, on up to Bárbara Renaud González in the 1990s, the first Chicana columnist in Texas. Other notables include Oscar Wilde, who stayed at the Menger Hotel during a lecture tour in 1882 ("men in Texas cannot survive more than an hour between beers"); Stephen Crane, who sang the city's praises in 1894; and O. Henry, who experienced numerous misadventures in San Antonio — and set six short stories there. Graham Greene hit town in 1939, describing San Antonio as "half Mexican and half Will Rogers," and Ambrose Bierce, who passed through before disappearing into thin (revolutionary Mexican) air.

    San Antonio holds an honored place in the births of political and civil rights movements, and the passages relating the ties between the Mexican Revolution and the flourishing of Latino literature in San Antonio are fascinating. Many writers and journalists fled Mexico for exile in San Antonio. Francisco Madero's Plan de San Luis Potosí, which urged armed rebellion, "literally [calling] the Mexican Revolution into being," was written and published in San Antonio. Pioneers of the Chicano literary movement in the 1960s believed San Antonio to be "el Corazón de Aztlan."

    Literary San Antonio offers many gems, an invaluable anthology and addition to Texas letters. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate San Antonio's tricentennial year.

    Michelle Newby, member of the National Book Critics Circle, is a Contributing Editor to Lone Star Literary Life.

  • Literary San Antonio captures the many voices of a great Texas city

    Dallas Morning NewsFeb. 23, 2018

    Special to the [Dallas Morning News]

    Reviewed by W. K. Stratton

    [See the link for photos.]

    A confession: I find all Texas cities (even Borger) to be of some interest, but El Paso and San Antonio fascinate me beyond all others when it comes to history and culture. Of the two, San Antonio is the weightier because of its sheer size and impact on the development of Texas. Besides, it is the home of the Spurs. Enough said.

    The Mission City has a rich literary heritage, one that stretches back to its founding. The Spanish first visited the area in June 1691, where they encountered a "rancheria of the Indians of the Payaya nation," wrote Father Damian Massanet in his diary. "This is a very large nation and the country where they live is very fine." The written word was not part of Payaya culture, so the priest's diary entry marked the beginning of San Antonio literature.

    From that meager launch, San Antonio writing has flourished over the centuries, as evidenced by the anthology Literary San Antonio, edited by Bryce Milligan. A poet and publisher who has lived in the city for more than four decades, Milligan knows San Antonio literature in and out and is the ideal person to assemble this collection. He understands the longstanding diversity of the city's voices. As reported by American poet Sidney Lanier — a temporary resident in 1872 — the Commerce Street bridge over the San Antonio River had warning signs in English, German and Spanish.

    Literary San Antonio rolls on for more than 400 pages, and it is compelling reading: poetry, journalism, fiction, drama, history. In large part, this is because of the literary tapestry created by all those different voices. "All peoples are resilient and sentient," writes Ricardo Sánchez, an author and proprietor of San Antonio's lamented Paperbacks y Mas bookstore. "Everyone carries a sense of one's people, and the name that evolves through a people's cultural history is a precious and sacred symbolic talisman."

    But this is not a limitation. Just as Spurs games bring together San Antonians with all sorts of backgrounds, cultural outlets in the city do the same. It is a city of bridges, literally and figuratively. "I was born and raised in San Antonio," said Cary Clack, formerly one of the city's most popular newspaper columnists, "and other than my own African American heritage, there are no other cultures that I embrace, or feel more comfortable in, than Mexican American or Latin American." Clack fondly recalled growing up on the East Side, where he could stand outside in his yard and hear both R&B and conjunto music.

    Outsiders pick up on the unique San Antonio vibe as well. Stephen Harrigan grew up in Abilene and Corpus Christi and has called Austin home for decades. But he has set some of his most important fiction in San Antonio, including the best-selling The Gates of the Alamo (the best novel yet written about those real-life events at the center of the city's mythology) and portions of Remember Ben Clayton (one of the best novels ever written by a Texan, period).

    Harrigan's book is sort of a roman a clef, with characters based on Pompeo Coppini, sculptor of the Alamo Cenotaph; Waldine Tauch, his assistant and sculptor in her own right; and J. Frank Dobie, the famed Texas folklorist, author and educator.

    As the Tauch-based character contemplates the "First Inhabitant" statue that she will sculpt for the Commerce Street bridge, she feels the need, as a transplanted New Yorker, to capture the city with "an outsider's reverence. The coziness of the little river, its spring-fed clarity, its exotic history of Indians and Spanish explorers and filibusters..."

    Poets are well-represented in Literary San Antonio, including two of the best to ever call Texas home, Carmen Tafolla and Naomi Shihab Nye. Tafolla is no outsider. She was born and came of age in the city's West Side barrios, and her poem "This River Here" is a meditation on that little river, a stream that figures heavily in her family's history — "with river water/. . . dirt and sins,/ fear and anger,/ sweat and tears,/ love and music,/ blood./ And memories.../ It was right here!/ And right here we stand,/ washing clean our memories..."

    Nye is more a citizen of the world. Born in St. Louis to an immigrant journalist from Palestine and his American wife, she spent much of her childhood in the Middle East before the family settled in San Antonio when she was in high school. And she absorbed the city. It became an important part of her poetic landscape: "And I strode down the block with a bullet in my pocket, through the baked streets of San Antonio summer, past the 24 Hour Bail office, the sagging Cactus Hotel sign, the store for checkered western wear, the greasy Cadillac Bar."

    The "first Texian novel" was Ambrosio de Letinez, written by a priest under the pen name T. Myrthe. In it, Myrthe speculates that the District of Bexar along the river 'San Anton' might well become "the paradise of North America." As Literary San Antonio demonstrates, there's no question that San Antonio has been a literary paradise in Texas — and likely will continue to be so for decades to come.

    Austin-based author W.K. Stratton is a fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters.

  • Is Anyone Goin' to San Antone?

    La BlogaFeb. 20, 2018

    Reviewed in [La Bloga] by Michael Sedano

    The summer after high school graduation, I flew to a speech tournament in Houston, Texas. The return trip, by train, stopped overnight in San Antonio Texas, where I took an an enchanted walk in the warm summer night near Alamo Plaza.

    Walking into a bustling shopping area was like being in San Bernardino, except bigger. I felt delighted no one would ask after my grandmother, and every beautiful Chicana I saw on the street wouldn't be a Prima.

    I told that story to Mario Robledo one night at Bravo Battery, a HAWK missile outfit out of Fort Bliss, Texas. Mario was a 19-year old vato from the streets of San Antonio, Regular Army. There was nothing holding him to the best city in the USA, so he joined up.

    The shit-kickers played this song down in base camp, by Charley Pride, "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone?" When I saw the album cover my mind was officially blown Texas-size. One kid exclaimed "Charley Pride can marry my sister!" Over subsequent years multiple business trips into San Antonio confirm high school me's opinion of the best city in the world, and good people all around.

    I imagine Mario put in his 20 years. Robledo today, enjoying his late 60s a retired contented man. He's holding a copy of Literary San Antonio in his lap and saying,"I'll be darned, who would've thought, there's no place like home."

    Literary San Antonio is the perfect book to pass those endlessly empty hours on the mountain, or provide immediate gratification for a browser who enjoys tastes of serendipity. Leaf through and you'll get caught. The book serves every reading interest from merely curious to literary scholar.

    Period work, 19th century writers like the quondam giant Sidney Lanier narrating a mythic storming of the doomed Alamo, and the 1960s' Ricardo Sánchez, explaining "chicano" as a lexical item in his "The Meaning of Chicano." Rarely anthologized work like Josephina Niggli's "Saints Day," and work intended only for a print audience, like the final story. Niggli's war story captures a grunt's eye view of a war of attrition.

    Journalism combined with political organizing collects Emma Tenayuca's classic example of argument while providing a contemporary shudder at how little changes in raza life, "The Mexican Question in the Southwest."

    Small politics with larger scope come into focus through columnist Jan Jarboe Russell's account of the battle of the Alamo among society women, "Letter from San Antonio." No retreat! No surrender! Hay otra voz, especially among the mover and shaker tipas who look after local culture.

    Speculative fiction readers will delight in the out-of-body experiences in O.Henry's story "The Enchanted Kiss." Modern readers will give the syntax and dialect spelling a friendly reading. The palsied twisted Chuy Pingarrón finds a spot in literary history with Candy on one side and Arty from Geek Love on another, and the sausage man in Tod Browning's Freaks in back.

    The editor's note on O.Henry and local bridges makes a story of itself, and the period piece draws a memorable connection. What, do iron and aluminum ring like?

    The city's teatro history, wasn't available or perhaps what the editors found seemed as bathetic as certain cowboy laments described in the introduction because the editors went for quality, and drama is tough to sell. Quien sabe, right? Gregg Barrios' work gets an editorial nod, but all things being equal, one exemplar is what we share.

    A memory play, Sterling Houston's "Driving Wheel" is a worthy sample with the play's echoes of August Wilson in both dialogue and use of place to delve into intense family issues.

    The volume's raza side enjoys good proportion in the poetry and fiction chapters. The sixteen poets, principally women, illustrate why there never can be enough poetry, nor enough poems fully to capture the richness of theme and style that populate a region's rhetorical discourse in poetry.

    Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Rosemary Catacalos are three laureates of their town and state, and Naomi Shahib Nye is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Nye's segment leads with a sadly apt prose piece about guns and bullets and time.

    Reading the editor's biographies of the writers constitutes a deeper layer of San Anto literary history. There's a montón of degrees, several MAs, and a Ph.D. in the mix. Niggli held MA. That persistent thread of brilliance that shines out from before Emma Tenayuca's time, is certified by these paper accomplishments, as if their art doesn't already speak for itself and their pueblo.

    There's lots of nuggets and delights across the genres. Readability goals achieved. A right way to eat a taco moment in Mary Guerrero Milligan's "Loteria: La Rosa," wondering if taco is the folded-in-half kind, or the wrapped kind I grew up, also called a burrito? I got a chortle from the clash of vocalic styles, the colloquial meets the medieval, that culminates a wonderful paragraph in Ph.D. Norma Elia Cantús ekphrasis, "La Chola:"

    Big hoop earrings. Big hair. Teased bouffant ... defiant but also a bit fearful; she knows her future. Sees it in her tías ... La chola fears cancer. Fears so many things: her boyfriend, her dad. Fears her uncles. Fears poverty. Fears illness. Fears old age. But most of all she fears them, the men who rule and decide for her. But maybe she'll show them all. Become la reina del sur. Her own boss. Take no shit from nobody, as she is wont to say.

    It's important that kids see themselves in the books they have to read, in process of finding books they want to read. Like Literary San Antonio, no matter where that kid reads, kids and their folks will pass it around. I wonder if Robledo would have gone a different direction, if his high school let him read about his girl back home? I hope she wasn't afraid of the guy I knew on that Korean mountaintop.

    A collection like that of Literary San Antonio's answers lots of cultural needs, not in San Antonio alone, and comes in a package diversity-palatable. Except to the most hidebound of the DRT, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose mismanagement of the thing itself, the Alamo, reflects a long-simmering tension between raza daughters, like Adina de Zavala, and anglo daughters.

    The publishers obviously intend people to read this book without struggling with its 416 pages. TCU Press has chosen a extra large page dimension and large, legible-even-without-glasses type.

    Lots of gente and just plain folk have their San Antonio conectas, memories, and empty spots they won't know existed until they get their hands on the print or electronic version of a fabulous sequel to the publisher's Literary El Paso. Order Literary San Antonio via your local brick & mortar bookseller.

  • Writers from San Antonio, on San Antonio

    San Antonio Express-NewsFeb. 18, 2018

    Special to the [San Antonio Express-News] by Ed Conroy

    It takes a rare combination of hubris, erudition, faith in the inspiration of the muse and a profound appreciation for local culture and history to undertake such an ambitious project as an anthology of three centuries of writing in and of San Antonio.

    Bryce Milligan embodies those qualities, and he has employed them very ably as editor of Literary San Antonio.

    At the outset of his fascinating introduction to this collection of historical writing, journalism and political essays, poetry and prose, drama and fiction, Milligan appropriately invokes Adina De Zavala, the "savior of the Alamo," and surely the muse of this book.

    She expressed the hope, Milligan observes, that "a school of loving and appreciative writers and artists will do justice to the wonderful history, legends and romance of Texas and her most attractive city, San Antonio, the beautiful."

    The conscientious way in which Milligan has created this comprehensive collection of works by 45 writers, plus a Dancing Song from the indigenous Comecrudo peoples, clearly demonstrates De Zavala's wish is continually coming true.

    In Milligan's introduction, the reader will find an exceptionally insightful overview of local literary endeavors over the past three centuries.

    Milligan describes how writers of all kinds have found San Antonio and its people to be uniquely inspiring, from the 18th century onward, as a "civilized, charming and exotic" place.

    As he puts it, "Spaniards drew more Spaniards," and "American reports drew Americans," with the written word having had "a considerable role in creating the city as we know it."

    Milligan accurately notes that the rise of Latino literature in the U.S., born in local Spanish language newspapers during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, and reared in the literary activism of the 1960s-era Chicano movement, derived much of its liberating force from San Antonio writers.

    His reminiscences of the now-gone Rosengren's bookstore, too, are a wonderful homage to the life work of Camille Rosengren and her late husband, Frank, who played a unique role in cultivating San Antonio literary life for decades.

    Milligan's application of his eagle-eyed perspective to our complex textual heritage results in a rich, variegated cornucopia of readings by nothing less than a who's-who of local writers from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

    Readers familiar with the best-known local fiction writers of the last three decades will find them here, from Sandra Cisneros, Jay Brandon, Robert Flynn, Norma E. Cantú, Nan Cuba and Stephen Harrigan to poets such as San Antonio poets laureate Jenny Brown, Laurie Ann Guerrero and Carmen Tafolla, plus Jim La Villa-Havelin, Roberto Bonazzi, Wendy Barker, and Naomi Shihab Nye.

    Former Express-News reporters Cary Clack and Jan Jarboe and the late Ricardo Sánchez appear in the journalism section with sharp observations of local life and strife, alongside, remarkably, the late labor activist Emma Tenayuca.

    Her powerful polemical essay, "The Mexican Question in the Southwest," which appeared in The Communist in 1939, is still relevant today.

    The late Sterling Houston provides the only dramatic work in the collection. His semi-autobiographical "Driving Wheel," produced at the Carver Cultural Center in 1992, is a fitting selection for this brilliant African-American writer whose life was far too short.

    Anyone who loves the history of San Antonio will want to read each of the contributions in the history section in their entirety. With selections ranging from early writers Frederick Law Olmstead, Sidney Lanier, Andrea Castañon Villanueva and Santiago Tafolla to more modern authors such as Frank W. Jennings, Maury Maverick Sr. and Steven J. Kellman, Milligan provides a kaleidoscopic array of trenchant commentaries on the economic, political and cultural development of our city.

    Milligan realized, of course, he could not include mention of everyone in the contemporary literary scene, but he makes a good faith effort to give credit to many writers whose works were not selected.

    And if this book has a muse, it also has a shamanic power-animal.

    The spirit of the deer, invoked by the Comecrudo peoples in their Dancing Song as translated by ethnologist A.S. Gatscher in 1886, "goes skipping about . . . skipping about."

    No doubt Adina De Zavala would be pleased with the works in this beautiful book.

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Buy This Book : $50

ISBN 978-0-87565-687-8
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