The first day of the first-ever INDIEPUBCON kicked off Friday afternoon, thanks to the combined efforts of The Independent Publishers Collab-PH (TIPC-PH) and the National Book Development Board. INDIEPUBCON 2021 is a five-day event featuring many discussions about writing and publishing that are not readily available to the public.
NBDB’s Executive Director, Charisse Aquino-Tugade, graced the opening program, inviting creatives (illustrators, authors, editors, and publishers alike) to register at the NBDB for free, to avail of grants and other special benefits.
Against Militarism, Sailing Toward Freedom
The first part of the program featured lively presentations from independent publishers and timely promotions of titles worth reading from the indie publishing scene. Balangay Media Productions (presented by Ronald Verzo) emphasized the need to create a new balangay that is “not just a symbol, nor a memory,” and that “[we wager] with this balangay, that we know our seas and coasts better,” and by sailing freely, we regain our independence. TIPC-PH also released a statement on the ban on subversive books in some state university libraries, stating that the needless, militaristic mindset that affects the world of books and ideas should be firmly opposed.
Keynote Speech: Nida Ramirez of Avenida Publishing
This year’s keynote speaker is Nida Ramirez of Avenida Publishing, who gave a thorough unpacking of what it means to be a publisher. The richness of her life experiences in publishing genuinely set the theme of what’s to come at INDIEPUBCON. She began her speech by saying that what she wanted to share was not an ideal or inspirational story containing a definite success roadmap, as she didn’t plan to become a publisher (in the beginning).
“[Publishing] came about as the answer to a need–specifically of my boss, who asked me what we could do so that our printing presses will always have something to do, mainly because our work was (kind of) seasonal. This was in 2000. At that time, I was already a huge fan of the Bobong Pinoy website. Bob Ong told me that he wanted to put out books. What my boss really wanted was a magazine that we could produce monthly or weekly. His peg was Reader’s Digest. I cannot handle that kind of headache.
“So, I said, okay this is just right, we can try one book and if we got good results from this one, we can try another one. If it fails, well, the losses won’t be substantial, either. Personally, it was a win-win solution, because at the same time, I would be able to work with my idol. And the rest, as they say, is history,” said Nida.
A Special Message from VP Leni Robredo
Vice President Leni Robredo sent a special message to this year’s INDIEPUBCON. VP Robredo’s message focused on the essential connections between creative work, publishing, and uplifting the marginalized. She commended the organizers for persevering through challenging times and taking the initiative to organize this year’s event specifically for independent publishers.
“As you launch your conference, you are probably thinking–how can we assure the support needed by indie publishers, especially in the time of the pandemic? How can we further enrich our advocacies in publishing? Many fear what tomorrow brings, and as we give life to these experiences: anxiety, fear, and uncertainty, we can bring what’s in the heart outward–to our kapwa.
“We become conscious that we are not alone in our experiences. Our language and writings express what it means to have a bayan. And in our grief and exaltations, we bring the threads of what makes us Filipinos ever brighter.
“We are all connected. Thus, my clarion call is to continue mirroring the Filipino experience in every book that we publish. The entire spectrum of how we live/feel, from suffering to victory, from disappointment to hope–in these ways, our sense of nation-ness deepens even more.
“In the face of the pandemic, as we continue to strengthen and enrich our languages, let us also share knowledge and wisdom that will help raise our communities. Let us continue deepening our relations with one another. Widen the net of compassion. Make the voices of the marginalized ever louder and clearer, especially our katutubo, so that many more can hear them,” said VP Robredo.
Warm Welcome Messages from V. Almario & E. Abueg
This year’s INDIEPUBCON received special messages from National Artist Virgilio Almario and renowned foundation of Filipino literature, Efren Abueg. Virgilio Almario said that he personally believes that independent publishers in the Philippines had a special place in the scheme of things. He continued his message by saying that the publishing scene should not be monopolized by the big publishers, and the indie publishers are there to help create new markets for never-before-seen books.
Efren Abueg left a heart-warming message to independent publishers and readers alike, saying that he was astounded that such an event was possible in the middle of the pandemic. He also shared a bit of his history with independent publishing, saying that in his time, he was not able to carry out certain research efforts and writing, believing that no publisher will ever take interest in such works.
“I have the deepest respect for your commitment in advancing Filipino literature, which up to now suffers from scarcity of translation even in ASEAN languages, and there is even less presence in renowned, global languages.
“Let me share with you my earliest experiences as an editor who wanted to have his collection of works published. It was difficult, to say the least, to engage with individual writers, and it was even harder to find a publisher who would be willing to risk it for my earliest efforts to get published. I was a student then, in 1959 who was “challenged” to publish my first anthology,” said Abueg.
The Jun Cruz Reyes Roundtable
Day one of INDIEPUBCON 2021 also saw the successful meeting of minds in the Jun Cruz Reyes Roundtable, Pagbali sa Utos ng Hari: Malayang Paglalathala bilang Dayalogo Kontra-Gahum. The roundtable was moderated by Rebo Press Book Publishing’s founder and Vox Populi PH’s editor-in-chief, Maria Kristelle Jimenez and was headlined by Jun Cruz Reyes, Allan Derain, Natalya Patolot and Ronaldo Vivo, Jr. Marius Carlos, Jr. from Vox Populi PH presented excerpts from the seminal Utos ng Hari in a special read-aloud session. The event was streamed live via Streamyard on TIPC-PH’s Facebook page.
Jun Cruz Reyes highlighted that Utos ng Hari was not anti-teacher, but was rather anti-anti-freedom of expression and anti-Marcos teachers, as the teachers that he referred to in the story were Marcos supporters who stifled students, erased votes and forced students to sing Bagong Lipunan.
Jun Cruz Reyes began the roundtable with a special lecture, where he highlighted several crucial points about writing and publishing in the Philippines. His first point was about “anti-establishment writers who joined all the contests and all the awards” and “anti-establishment writers who want to sell a lot of books, and in the end, become sell-outs.”
Excerpts from the lecture follow:
“Are we happy when a book has been printed 1000 times, which takes twenty years to sell? Are we really happy [with these figures], as we have a voting population of 54 million? We can’t have writers without publishers.
“These two are connected. And there can never be writers if there are no readers. We seem to be forgetting something important in the discussion how will the writer earn from writing? When you publish a book, the printer, the binder and all of these people make money–the only one who doesn’t clearly earn is the writer.
“There are large and ready markets–what is to be done? Do we become cooperatives? Do we bind together as associations like publishers’ associations? Then there’s the NBDB. I don’t know if it’s just missed or forgotten, but independent publishers give a huge help to the effort, when you combine these [independent publishers]. I think there should be an effort to establish a healthy relationship between the writer, reader and publisher,” said Reyes.
One of the critical questions in the roundtable was “what is the history and meaning of indie publishing?” Allan Derain, author of Aswanglaut and representative of the Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP), provided insights on the scarcity of written histories on literary production.
“First of all–do we want to talk about history in its most technical sense, or do we want to talk about history by way of looking at it as recorded narratives? We can look at history as a narrative that wasn’t just told to another person/people but a narrative that was written down. If someone would ask me about history, top of my head, there would be Bienvenido Lumbera, then there is also a sustained work by Resil Mojares, then Soledad Reyes. Then there’s one that I know of, a book historian, who watches over the history of books in the Philippines, Mae Jurilla.
“Unfortunately, I think no one is really writing about the history of publishing and all the things related to literary production. We don’t have a history of indie [publishing] because we don’t have a history of publishing [in a general sense].
Natalya Patolot, a young writer from the Ateneo De Manila University enriched the roundtable with her question on legitimacy as a young writer–should young writers first be published by “reputable publishing houses, preferably academic ones” and aspire for at least one award to be considered writers? Jun Cruz Reyes has a pointed response: “there is no wrong [way] of writing. Write and write. The critic comes last–you do not write for the category [of the critic].”
Ronaldo Vivo, Jr. of Ungaz Press shared his insights on what it meant to be a writer in this day and age.
“There is no board exam for writers. A dancer, if he wants to dance, can dance without an audience–and he is called a dancer after. In my perspective, I think a writer is similar. If you can write, even if you don’t have any validation from the authorities [that we know of], you are a writer. It’s that simple,” sad Vivo.
When asked about how he’s carrying out the work of presenting alternative works to the classroom, Allan Derain said that he engages students in dialogue so that they may think of other works that may serve as an alternative to his syllabus.
“I am fortunate to be in an institution that is somewhat open to these things. Our course is a survey of literature [its entire history]. I always make it a point to open their minds to the concept of canon and our course becomes reflexive in this sense, as there are many types of canon. So when they’re done with my syllabus, our final project would be–what alternative syllabus can you offer?”
The roundtable continued for almost two hours, extending to many other dimensions of independent publishing and writing in the Global South.