The Skiffy and Fanty Show

Cultural Tourists (Part 2): Publishing and Representation


Wendy Xu has a brilliant and critical assessment of racism in Eleanor and Park, and it’s tempered by Mike Jung’s post on how he can experience both love and be troubled by the novel. The latter is one of the complicated experiences of a reader is who is not privileged, who constantly struggles to find themselves in the literature they read and who sometimes settles for any representation. If in Part 1 I talked about the behavior of cultural tourists, let’s look at the larger implications of that here.

In the Philippines for example, we have several talented authors like Eliza Victoria, Ian Rosales Casocot, and Dean Francis Alfar. Unfortunately, their readership is dwarfed by the number of fans of Western authors like Robert Jordan, J.K. Rowling, and George R. R. Martin. If our authors aren’t being read in our own country, how much better will they fare overseas? And this isn’t a scenario unique to the Philippines. It happens to a lot of countries affected by colonialism or imperialism (or both).

I have always been tempted by this ideology:  if you want to make it big in the Philippines, make it big in America. By no means is this belief always true; there are many authors who are popular here (especially the writers who write in Filipino) that were never popular in the US. But there are also several writers who have grown popular here because of their publication by a “foreign” publisher (usually, this just means a US or UK publisher). And that’s not to take away from their success, but merely a commentary on the habits of local readers (which I don’t think is unique to the Philippines). Or perhaps it’s simply a lack of opportunity here (Who will publish this book? What are book agents?). One could even think of it as a form of initiative:  if readers outside of the Philippines won’t come to us, we’ll come to them.And in line with that, we have two Filipino genre writers being published by US publishers. One is David Ramirez, with his novel The Forever Watch out now from Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. The other is Rin Chupeco’s The Girl From the Well, published by Sourcebooks Fire, which will be out later in the year. I haven’t read either book, so don’t expect any evaluations on them from me. But the question I ask, when I hear such news, is whether said authors will write about the Philippines or include Filipinos in their books, and whether their success will translate to interest in Filipino writing in general.

Also related to that are writing workshops. There’s a certain prestige attached to foreign workshops, or at the very least, having access to instructors whose work you’ve actually read or were important to you. I mean, I want to be participate in the Clarion Workshop. And Clarion motivates me more than any local writing workshop, especially since there are no genre writing workshops in the Philippines.  But Clarion is also expensive. $8.00 is the daily minimum here, and roundtrip airfare to the US is $1,000.00, so attending Clarion without a scholarship easily amounts to the annual income of your average Filipino. And again, this isn’t unique to the Philippines. That’s why Haralambi Markov, who is from Bulgaria, is seeking help to be able to attend Clarion.

And then there are the numerous conventions. For as many genre conventions you want to run and host, most of them are being held in the US and the UK.  Worldcon and the World Fantasy Convention, if we were to base it on where the events are held, is a misnomer.

If you’re looking for diverse science fiction and fantasy, you have to understand how the field can be US- and UK-centric. Many are expecting authors and their fiction (let’s translate it into English!) to come to them, when that’s not always possible, because we don’t have access to the same privilege as some of you. Come to us, and don’t be a tourist.