Photography by Danny Fulgencio.

If you search for Joe Milazzo online, you’ll find that he is a Dallas writer, editor, educator and designer with a gift for inventing poetic, turbulent and sentient language. But if you ever get the chance to meet him for a cup of coffee on an early Friday afternoon, you will discover that he labels himself as someone “doing interesting things with words.”

Oh, and he started an underground newspaper in high school and almost got expelled. 

Milazzo has lived in East Dallas for all but two years of his life. He uses his deep-rooted connection to the neighborhood as a driving force for his creativity. Milazzo grew up on Lower Greenville when the Granada still showed movies, the record stores were hangout hotspots and mom-and-pop shops stood at every corner. He attended Bishop Lynch High School and then moved across town to Southern Methodist University to study creative writing. 

“If you’re going to live here, there are things to write about,” Milazzo says as he recalls the advice given to him by legendary writer and SMU English professor Marshall Terry. Terry died in 2016, but Milazzo still credits the beloved founder of SMU’s creative writing program for opening his eyes to Dallas as a space to invent. 

“Terry told me, ‘There are opportunities in Dallas to create. Lean into it, make the most of the fact that you’re here, that there’s material that can sustain the kind of work you want to do.’”

To say that Milazzo has made the most of being “here” is an understatement.

He is the author of “Crepuscule W/ Nellie” and two full-length poetry collections: “The Habilements” and “Of All Places In This Place Of All Places.” He co-curated an online interdisciplinary arts journal called “[out of nothing]” and serves as an associate editor for SMU’s literary review. He is also a contributing editor for Entropy and the proprietor of Imipolex Press. 

Milazzo became a pioneer in developing Dallas’ literary identity when it barely had one. In an effort to grow the community’s literary scene, he developed projects meaningful for the city itself. As a result, many of his publications are poetic narratives about the urban experience in Dallas.  

The poems embedded in Dallas’ urban living experience also wrestle with the city’s history. “Of All Places” incorporates language from the Texas State Historical Association’s “Handbook of Texas” and hones in on the violent Dallas Garment Workers’ Strike of 1934. 

Photo by Danny Fulgencio.

There’s still work to be done in our city, Milazzo says. With an expression of shock and thrill on his face, the author sips his latte and offers his perspective on the literary presence in Dallas. To him, it’s an exciting anomaly. Even though we live in one of the largest metropolitan cities in the country, community spaces for literature and poetry are lacking or hard to find. 

“For a fairly young city, the literary scene is what you would call pretty healthy right now,” Milazzo says. “Although, we still have a lot of work to do surrounding issues with diversity and inclusion.”  

Now working a full-time job in marketing and digital strategy, Milazzo dedicates as much time as he can to Dallas’ literary scene. 

“You could start by encouraging more people to treat literature and poetry as art forms,” he says. “If you think about it, poetry has the same amount of force as a painting or a song.” 

As for ways to make your own mark on the city’s literary presence, Milazzo recommends visiting independent bookstores and reading locally as much as possible. If you’re looking for more interactive community spaces for literature and poetry, Milazzo suggests Rail Writers, WordSpace or visiting Deep Vellum Books. Or, pick up a copy of Milazzo’s most recent poetry project set to release this month, “From Being Things, To Equalities In All.”

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