Dedicating a whole month to literature

The month of April has been fruitful for the Philippine book publishing industry. Writers, authors, publishers, stakeholders of the industry, and cultural institutions converged and organized various events to promote Philippine Literature and to give honor to our country’s literary heroes.

As declared by Proclamation 968, April is Buwan ng Panitikan or National Literature Month. The National Book Development Board (NBDB), Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) started the celebration by honoring Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar in Orion, Bataan on April 2.

The NBDB mounted the Pinoy Bookstore Tour, Araw ng Aklat/Dia del Libro, and the 7th Philippine International Literary Festival in promotion of Philippine literature and the local book publishing industry.

In search of locally run bookstores

Last April 8, the NBDB kicked off the Pinoy Bookstore Tour, a three-day tour in Metro Manila and Luzon that put a spotlight on locally run bookstores and excellent Filipino-authored books particularly some National Book Award winners and finalists. Solidaridad Bookshop on Padre Faura Street served as the jump-off point of the tour. National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose welcomed the tour participants to Solidaridad and gave a short talk on running the 50-year-old bookstore. This was followed by discussions on bookmaking with Nikki Alfar, Marne Kilates, and Jose Marte Abueg represented by his publisher, UST Publishing House Director John Jack Wigley. They also talked about their inspirations in writing. On the next stop of the tour, the participants were introduced to a great number of Philippine arts and culture books in located along Pioneer Street in Mandaluyong. Owners Ringo Bunoan and Katya Guerrero shared how their concept of opening a bookstore focusing on arts and culture materialized. After their talk, writers Regina Abuyuan and Norma Respicio discussed the bookmaking process of their award-winning books, Agam and Journey of a Thousand Shuttles, The Philippine Weave respectively. On the last stop of the first day, Ayer Arguelles, author of Pesoa and Kristian Cordero, author Labi:Mga Tula, enthusiastically read their poems to an eager audience at Uno Morato, a quaint bar that also doubles as a bookstore selling independently published books. The night ended with an acoustic performance by Lolito Go.

On the second day, the group headed to Malolos, Bulacan to visit a branch of Pandayan Bookshop. Award-winning authors Mervin Malonzo (Tabi Po) and Borg Sinaban (PilandoKomiks) shared their journey to comic book writing. To cap off the day, participants and guests shared a laugh as Beverly Siy, author of It’s a Mens World, and Joselito Delos Reyes, author of iStatus Nation, discuss humor writing at Orchids Bookstore in San Fernando, Pampanga.

On the third day and last stop, author of the Janus Silang Series, Edgar Samar, and creator of Kikomachine Komix, Manix Abrera filled the Baguio Cinematheque with their avid fans as they shared their writing inspirations. A book signing at Mt. Cloud Bookshop followed after their talk.

Highlighting award-winning books

To celebrate World Book and Copyright Day on April 23, the NBDB partnered with KWF, NCCA, Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL), Instituto Cervantes, WTA Architecture and Design Studio, and Ayala Land. The event is titled Araw ng Aklat/Dia del Libro/World Book Day to give recognition to the various organizations involved in the event.

Held at Ayala Triangle Garden, the NBDB showcased some of the winners of the 34th National Book Awards including social media non-fiction iStatus Nation by Joselito Delos Reyes, anthology Ang Labingtatlong Pasaway edited by Jun Cruz Reyes, comic book 14 by Manix Abrera, short fiction collection WonderLust by Nikki Alfar, speculative fiction Dwellers by Eliza Victoria, non-fiction Ramon Obusan: Philippine Dance and Me by Kanami Namiki, humor book Buti Pa Ang Roma, May Bagong Papa by Noreen Capili, Young adult novel Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon by Edgar Samar, Poetry book Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan by E. San Juan, Philippine art book Journey of Thousand Shuttles, The Philippine Weave by Norma Absing Respicio; and Kinaray-a poetry book Tikum Kadlum by Federico “Tuohan” Caballero, Teresita “Abyaran” Caballero-Castor, and Alicia P. Magos. Quotes and designs from the books were printed for free at the NBDB booth as a treat to book lovers. A henna tattoo and face paint station was also set up attracting more people to NBDB’s booth. Sin the afternoon, storytellers from the National Library of the Philippines gave a fun and lively performance to a very young and energetic audience.

Remembering the value of writing

On April 28 and 29, book lovers and literary enthusiasts flocked to QCX, Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City to listen and join in the diverse discussions on writing sensitive topics and intriguing stories. The two-day 7th Philippine International Literary Festival, themed Against Forgetting, reminded the participants about the social conflicts and tragedies of the nation from the accounts of writers and journalists such as Jo-Ann Maglipon, Jose F. Lacaba, Ericson Acosta, Padma Perez, Jeena Marquez, among many others.

International author Bei Ling, one of China’s literary exiles, read his poignant poem on the opening ceremony of the Festival. His speech was followed by a dialogue between two poets, Jose F. Lacaba and Ericson Acosta, who shared their experiences as political prisoners.

In a panel discussion called, Are Writers Free?, censorship and sensitive topics in literature were tackled by Chingbee Cruz, Ericson Acosta, Allan Derain, and Bei Ling. In another panel, seasoned writers Edel Garcellano, Benilda Santos, and Bei Ling encouraged young poets by sharing cautionary tales and comforting words to them.

Graphic literature and history were also given a spotlight at the Festival. Editorial cartoonist Jess Abrera and graphic novelist Sonny Liew discussed how a comic strip can provide a glimpse of the political and cultural climate of a nation.

On the second day, the Festival highlighted the book publishing industry. Invited literary luminaries such as Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo and Guillermo Ramos facilitated the Literary Editing Lecture and the Book Design Workshop respectively. Rights and copyright and publishing contracts were also discussed in depth by lawyers and writers Atty. Andrea Pasion-Flores and Atty. Nicolas Pichay. Discussion on how to break into the international market was conducted in the plenary session with international speakers Claudia Kaiser and Stacy Whitman. Digital publishing expert Honey de Peralta shared her preliminary research on the digital publishing in the Philippines.

Writers and publishers alike talked about the international market in two parallel sessions. Writers Kate Evangelista and Sonny Liew discussed how Asian writers fare in the competition for publishers and readers worldwide. While marketing strategies for world publishers were shared by Tu Books founder and publisher Stacy Whitman and Acedemic Product Manager of National Bookstore, Gwenn Galvez.

As the 7th Philippine International Literary Festival ended, one can only hope that the theme, Against Forgetting, and the topics and discussions presented will inspire more writers to remember the significant events that molded the Philippines into what it is today and to continue making the public aware of our country’s rich history.