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A David Bowen, Photo courtesy Bryce Milligan AFTERWORD A Bookman’s Life BY BRYCE MILLIGAN On Friday January 2.3 Texas lost a treasure David Bowen writes actor publisher , bookman died after a protracted struggle with AIDS. He let few people know he was ill until these last month, when it became obvious. He wanted to die at home with his books and his friends and his music and he did so. Mozart Piano Concerts Opus 2.5 was on the radio when he slipped away. /first encountered David in 1977, when I wandered into his tiny San Antonio rare book shop, On. Paper. Fresh from David Farmer’s class on rare book bibliography at the University of Texas, I was enthralled. Here in this unlikely spot were not only plenty of rare books, but the sort of reference works one saw cited only in the finest catalogues. I wandered the shop for an hour, fingering titles like the Kelmscott Press edition of Keats, a 1759 edition of Paradise Lost, first editions of everything from Little Women to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. David was all the while sitting in a comfortable chair with a cup of very black coffee in one hand and a copy of Printing and the Mind of Man in the other. We hit it off at once, and within a month, I was cataloguing the place, taking my pay mostly in books. David loved the term “bookman.” In fact he told me once, only partially in jest, that he would like that one word as an epitaph. Well, he was an excellent bookman, and a lot more. On the wall of his bookstore, there was a quotation from Samuel Johnson that read, “Booksellers are generous, liberal-minded men, the true patrons of literature.” I have met few individuals who so completely fit that definition as David Bowen. He was generous to a fault: struggling young writers, myself included, could always count on David for a loan; impecunious bibliophiles were delighted to walk away with rare books that they would pay off in weekly installments. David was always a true patron of the arts: literature or theater or music. He was also a truly creative businessman, something he never expected to be. Once, when it came time to pay an advance on royalties, instead of a check, I ended up with the baby grand piano that had been in his front room. We were both well satisfied. It was in On Paper, in 1977, that Corona Publishing Company was conceived. It was here that I first showed David the manuscript of my poem, “Daysleepers,” which would eventually be published as the first title in Corona’s series of poetry books. It was a place where poets and professors and musicians and actors met, one of those brief magical places where literary dreams took form. David created that space, that opportunity, and those of us who encountered it remain grateful. When I recall David’s little bookshop on Broadway, I am reminded of Keats’ lines: “Souls of poets dead and gone, / What Elysium have ye known, / Happy field or mossy cavern, / choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?” For many book lovers in San Antonio at the time, David’s store was our Mermaid Tavern. Corona Publishing Company was born in 1977-78, with the publication of two collections of historical postcards. David’s aim was to become a “general trade publisher” with the’ same range of interests of any major house that is, an unlimited range of interest, but using only Texas writers. Early Corona titles focused on the history of Texas .and San Antonio, but soon included a poetry series,’ a series of young adult novels featuring the several ethnic groups of Texas, two’ collections of short ‘fiction by contemporary Texas writers’ \(noted by reviewers as being the first ‘such’ anthologies to adequately represent women and Latino archaeology, rural living, Texas trees, open adoption, Peace Corps experiences, the life of a gay Texas minister, cookbooks, translations of contemporary Mexican literature and reprints of classic works of history, and of course, numerous novels. David’s vision, not to mention his willingness to take a risk on unknown writers, constitutes a significant gift to Texas letters: a legacy that will live on in the lives of over fifty authors and thousands of readers. Corona was ‘cited again and again in trade journals like Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal as one of finest independent publishers in the Southwest, so it was 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 27, 1998