Writer Bryce Milligan Steps Down as Wings Press Manager After Allegations

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Courtesy / Wendy Weil Attwell

Local author Bryce Milligan was accused of inappropriate conduct by a former high school student.

Following allegations of inappropriate conduct against him, acclaimed San Antonio writer Bryce Milligan will no longer manage Wings Press, the small publishing house he has run since 1995. The author’s wife, Mary Guerrero Milligan, and daughter Brigid Milligan will manage and run the press in his place.

Less than one week after Hailey Laine Johnson came forward with the allegations against Milligan, a poet who was her high school teacher, the artist community is reacting to her claims, ending relationships and working agreements with Milligan. On Tuesday night, the Artist Foundation of San Antonio voted to reallocate a $15,000 grant awarded to Milligan.

Johnson alleges that Milligan acted inappropriately with her when she was his 14-year-old student at the North East School of the Arts. He allegedly had her sit on his lap in the classroom, wrote poetry and songs about her body and virginity, and called her late at night to say he would leave his wife for her.

Milligan denies these claims, and says his relationship with Johnson was “strictly platonic.”

In a letter to Wings Press authors on Tuesday, Mary and Brigid Milligan announced the change of management.

“Since 1995, Wings Press has been a family-owned, independent small publishing house and going forward will be managed by Wings Press co-owners Mary Guerrero Milligan and Brigid Milligan,” they wrote. “Wings Press continues to be dedicated to producing multicultural literature that enlightens the human spirit and enlivens the mind.”

Gemini Ink, an organization that hosts creative writing workshops by published writers, announced it cancelled an event scheduled to be led by Milligan on May 24. San Antonio poet and Texas Institute of Letters President Carmen Tafolla will replace him as the co-moderator for the event. Gemini Ink officials said they are listening to the community and working to “ensure trust going forward.”

On Saturday, the Texas Institute of Letters, a prestigious literary organization of which Milligan has been a member since 2003, announced he had tendered his resignation.

Carmen Tafolla delivers "This River Here" as an interpretive dance is performed by San Antonio Dance Umbrella.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Carmen Tafolla in a recent performance.

Tafolla told the Rivard Report that she contacted Milligan about the allegations to discuss the implications on Saturday. He expressed concern that the scandal would affect the institute’s reputation and resigned “in the interest of the organization.”

The institute’s bylaws and traditions dictate that its membership is given for life, so Tafolla noted Milligan’s resignation is largely symbolic – in reality, his membership status changes from active to inactive.

Tafolla said the allegations against Milligan present a conundrum for the Texas Institute of Letters: membership has always been focused on recognizing achievement and has never addressed what Tafolla called “personal behavior.”

“[Membership] has never been focused on personal behavior, although, as with any honor, ethics is always a part of the respect and esteem which we hold for an individual,” Tafolla said.

As a result, Tafolla appointed an ethics committee to study and make case-by-case decisions when similar situations arise.

“[T]hey could study and consider whether a member’s personal or professional ethics are affecting the mission, activities or impact of the Texas Institute of Letters,” she said. “Our job is not to judge, avenge, vindicate, or prosecute. That is the job of our courts or our legal system.”

Local author and educator Jenny Browne will serve as San Antonio’s third Poet Laureate for a two-year term from 2016-2018. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Jenny Browne, Texas Poet Laureate in 2017.

Other prominent Texas writers have reacted with similar concern. Former Texas Poet Laureate Jenny Browne said she was “deeply troubled and saddened by these allegations.” She emphasized that creative writing classrooms can both present promise and possibliity for students and leave them vulnerable.

“I take my position of influence, and the importance of settings strong and clear boundaries, very seriously,” Browne said. “I believe real damage has been done.”

Browne said she hopes the arts community can rise to the occasion by listening to the experiences of women and having difficult conversations about the “larger systems that enable misuse of power.” 

Wings Press authors have released individual statements about Johnson’s allegations on social media.

One writer, Amalia Ortiz, who wrote Rant. Chant. Chisme. under the Wings Press imprint, posted Tuesday on Facebook that Milligan should step down.

Ortiz referenced something Milligan has said in the past – that he made a blood oath to buy Wings Press in 1994 from founder Joanie Whitebird, who let him have the press for $100 under the condition that he keep it going.

“If he cares about the legacies of all the writers he has published over his career, he should immediately distance himself from our intellectual property,” she wrote. “As long as he is publisher, Wings Press is losing credibility.”

Ortiz said the publishing house on Tuesday canceled her book, The Canción Cannibal Cabaret, which was already sent to catalogs and the distributor.

“My book is now indefinitely delayed while I find a new publisher,” she wrote.

Editors of another book, The Latinx Archive, which had been working with Wings Press, announced Saturday that they would no longer be working with Milligan’s press due to the allegations.

S.T. Shimi, whose work was included in Jump-Start Playworks, an anthology of new plays published by Wings Press, said she was stunned into initial silence after first becoming aware of Johnson’s allegations.

Shimi questioned fellow members of the San Antonio artist community over the way Milligan’s alleged behavior has been characterized as an “open secret.”

“If this was such an open secret, then how many of my peers and erstwhile mentors and colleagues in the ‘SA circles’ knew and shrugged it off?” Shimi said. “Was it hilarious and weird to you, and just what ‘talented men’ get to do? None of your business? Well it’s your business now.”

Some other authors who have been published by Wings Press told the Rivard Report that they are in the process of organizing a response to Milligan, but are still reaching out to more writers before publishing a formal statement.

Others local residents said they are drafting a letter to City Council to ask that the City give no further payments to Milligan as grants or through any other program. The Artist Foundation of San Antonio, which is February awarded Milligan the $15,000 grant, is supported in part by the City’s Department of Arts and Culture.

In a Facebook post, the foundation said it relies on grant winners to uphold its mission, and that it would be reallocating the full $15,000 grant elsewhere. The money already given to Milligan had been returned to the foundation.

“In the case of our most recent literary arts grant winner we do not believe that he can effectively execute the stewardship bestowed on him,” the foundation wrote. “Tuesday evening the Artist Foundation board voted to reallocate the returned funds. Our hope is that with this reallocation of grant money we can move forward and continue to execute our mission.”

11 thoughts on “Writer Bryce Milligan Steps Down as Wings Press Manager After Allegations

  1. Maybe you could change your title? The difference between a reaction and a response, is apples and oranges. A reaction isn’t thought out, it’s just automatic, like a kick in the nuts when you grab a breast without permission. A ‘response’ is well thought out. Just because you read online ‘public’ posts doesn’t mean that the women aren’t having some heavy behind the scenes discussions, by phone, in person, or in private messages. Give the effected (and affected) women some credit for being strategic.

    • Queti, thank you for the constructive feedback. The headline changed due to new developments, but you make a great point that we will heed going forward. Thanks for reading!

  2. I have read Hailey Laine Johnson’s post on facebook and her allegations about Bryce Milligan’s behavior as her teacher 16 or 17 years ago. These are strong allegations and should be investigated after a report is made to the proper authorities, not by a report on social media.

    My question to you, Emily Donaldson, is where did you obtain your information about these allegations? Have you spoken with Hailey Laine Johnson?

    You, Emily Donaldson, have reported about these allegations of improper behavior by Bryce Milligan towards Hailey Laine Johnson when she was 14 years old. As a professional reporter for the Rivard Report I would expect that your information is professionally obtained and supported by evidence, not by a post that you have read on Facebook.

    So, Emily Donaldson, my request is that you obtain information about these allegations from the source by interviewing Hailey Laine Johnson, not by a Facebook post that probably has severely affected Bryce Milligan’s life, his wife and children, and his professional status.

    Do you know Hailey Laine Johnson? I do not know her, nor do I know her education, her personality, her personal and mental state, her life history. All that I know about Hailey Laine Johnson is what I stated in my second paragraph of this post and what I have read on her facebook posts.

    I imagine Bryce is walking through hell because of this Facebook post which is not proof of allegations but Hailey Laine Johnson’s “speak out” about when she was 14.

    This is not part of the “me too” movement, technically, because no sexual violence has been presented by Hailey Laine Johnson. But improper conduct has been her accusations. I do not believe that accusations are proper proof of misconduct, she should talk to some mental professional about her accusations to assist her recovery of anger about her accusations. Then perhaps the truth will be discovered, whether her accusations are true need to be discussed, not presented on social media. I am not certain that Guadalupita may have proper consultants.

    Thank you for reading this post.

    • Cirby, As we reported, Johnson repeated her allegations to the Rivard Report in a phone interview. Our story also states that Johnson and her mother reported Milligan’s behavior to school administrators, and that North East Independent School District officials confirmed that an investigation was started and Milligan was removed from the classroom. Milligan resigned before the ‘process of his firing could be completed,’ according to NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor.

    • Well said!

      So far the only facts we know is what a girl said on FB, who could just have had a crush on her teacher as many girls do, and wanted to stand out amongst her peeers. Whether or not her intentions were to destroy a mans life or not, that’s exactly what she is doing! It’s more like a witch hunt, everyone in the literary field is distancing themselves from him for their own sake. This is not hollywood where film producers were getting away with all kind of scandals. This is a good man, one who has worked hard in the literary field, and is also a good family man. It is a crime to destroy an innocent man’s career like this, it could so easily be one of you being persecuted like this with everyone turning their backs on you! This action is absolutely shameful!

  3. Now that the Artist Foundation has withdrawn their grant of $16,000 to Milligan, I wonder why he was never vetted as many other worthy candidates for the award were. Surely they knew of his proclivity for young girls – it was “an open secret” in the arts community. These gatekeepers must have egg on their faces now. Plus they haven’t sent any message of support to the young woman he abused. What a bunch of cold-hearted bastards. And we still haven’t heard if the Library Foundation will rescind their earlier arts award to Milligan or whether Gemini Ink will invalidate his lifetime achievement award. #timesup!

  4. FYI This is the statement made by 8 women writers published by Wings Press.
    Support them. And other women writers including the two Poet Laureates of Texas that are Wings authors must step up and speak up in solidarity with their
    sisters.

    Posted by poet Lorna Dee Cervantes / Facebook

    We the undersigned authors of Wings Press stand united and mortified over the accusations made against Bryce Milligan.
    We first and foremost believe the allegations made by Hailey Laine Johnson and offer her our support. Our hearts go out to the families who are also hurt by his predatory acts.
    We recognize this case as a reflection of the larger system of oppression, misogyny, and patriarchy. We commend Hailey for her bravery and encourage other survivors to speak
    up against their abusers. In the shadow of #timesup and #metoo, we know this is just the beginning of a cultural change that is long overdue.

    Furthermore, we find Bryce’s public statement and continued defense of his deplorable actions beyond disturbing. There is no excuse. As authors who lead students,
    we see his behavior as poor pedagogy and are appalled that he continues to justify his so-called “teaching methods.” These positions of authority are in need of reclamation from the hands of predatory men, who “stand with us” only in order to gain sexual satisfaction or a shopworn notion of “artist-muse” relationships.
    In his own words in his public statement he associated his creativity with sexuality, and did so with a minor. It is a form of violence to use one’s power
    in this way, whether Milligan sees it or not. We are outraged at his claims of feminism and his use of his record supporting female Wings Press authors
    as armor against his actions. We stand with Hailey Laine Johnson and his other victims.

    Norma Elia Cantú
    Lorna Dee Cervantes
    Imelda Garcia
    Amalia L. Ortiz
    S.T. Shimi
    Victoria Garcia-Zapata

  5. I see that no one answered Cirby Forrest’s question two weeks later? I have the same question. a retired teacher

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