I represented Gantala Press in the Invitation Programme for small publishers from countries with a developing book industry at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse), said to be the largest book fair in the world. To be honest, I applied to the program not knowing that the Buchmesse is more of a huge meeting place for publishers, rights managers, literary agents, and other publishing professionals to discuss the business of publishing — licenses, translation rights, distribution, etc. I had thought that it was primarily a book fair where we could sell our books to readers/consumers — a great way to reach Filipinos in Europe. It wasn’t. Publishers who go to Frankfurt bring only one or two or three sample copies of their books, to show or give away to prospective partners.
Our group had a nice balance of women and men participants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We had a seminar on drafting a rights contract, as well as on book design. We also shared about the book industry in our respective countries, and what our presses do. Most of the Programme fellows are small/independent publishers like myself who do almost all of the work, from editing to designing books to selling them and providing invoices. One publisher keeps her stocks in her parents’ garage. But I think among the fellows this year, Gantala produces the smallest number of books (about 500-700 copies per title only). The others publish a minimum of 2,000 copies per title.
Researching for my presentation, I learned — confirmed — that 88% of Filipino adults are literate, and in 2012, the Philippines imported almost USD 62 billion worth of books, mostly from the US, Canada, and UK! Data from 2014 indicates that the Philippines produces only 6,000 books per year, compared to Vietnam or Indonesia’s 24,000 titles per year. In short, there exists a huge gap between the supply of and demand for locally produced books in the country. (Data from here.)
Knowledge of this gap has strengthened my resolve to prioritize the production of original works rather than bring foreign works to the Philippines (not that we could afford to buy rights and hire translators for foreign works, given our limited resources). Translation is not really a big industry in the country. Is it because we speak English? At the same time, it made me think about the books that Gantala Press has produced so far. Would foreign publishers be interested to translate them, seeing that they are based on very specific issues? Would non-Filipino readers in foreign lands be interested in the life stories of peasant women in Cavite, for example? This reminded me that our readers, primarily, are: 1) the community from whom the stories are drawn; 2) Filipinos in the Philippines; and 3) Filipinos abroad. This also reminded me of who our authors are: nameless women from communities. Peasants. Workers. Collectives. What a striking contrast their faces in my mind are, against the large-scale photos of superstar authors like Olga Tokarczuk or Isabelle Allende in equally large-scale publisher’s booths!
I was able to attend a talk on Women in Publishing where the speakers, save one, were all white women. Their concerns included the pay gap and unequal regard for women and men in the publishing industry, whether among authors or publishing executives.
I also had the privilege of joining two panel discussions: one on Women Writers in Southeast Asia, and another entitled “Women’s Literature: Trend Topic or Niche?” In the first panel, I spoke alongside Feby Indirani of Indonesia, who wrote a fabulous novel on womanhood and Islam; the Malaysian writer Chuah Guat Eng; and the Hong Kong writer Lai Chu Hon. In the second panel, I spoke with my co-fellows Michelle Perez Lobo of Mexico and Silvia Naschenveng of Brazil, Akoss Ofori Mensah of Ghana, and Britta Jürgs of Germany. Tokarczuk’s Nobel Prize was discussed: what did we think of that? Michelle said the prize indicates that we have accomplished fifty percent of what we need to do, but there remains fifty percent to be done. Because while Tokarczuk is a woman, she is still a white woman. Someone also said — I think it was Akoss — that usually, women write not to win a prize, but to fight for a cause. In Ghana, that means fighting against child marriage. In the Philippines, that means standing against Duterte’s government.
One thing I really appreciated in the fair was the chance to meet a lot of people from all over the world. I met a male publisher from Africa who asked: doesn’t Ligaw-Tingin, our lesbian komix, promote homosexuality when it shouldn’t? I met a Filipino man who bought a copy of Makisawsaw with his Caucasian boyfriend. And beautiful women from Morocco who have Filipina nannies and who told me of the precarious situation of Filipina migrant workers there.
Even if Gantala Press is indie, small-scale, and low-profile, I still appreciated this opportunity to join the Frankfurt Book Fair. It showed me the extent — to a certain extent — of the “international publishing scene.” It made me realize exactly where and what our position was, as a small, non-profit, non-earning, feminist literary collective.
However, despite the glitz and glamor of the fair — Karl Ove Knausgård spoke at the opening! Margaret Atwood and Colson Whitehead were there! I felt most connected to a stall of Iranian activists that stood against the cold, cold, cold Frankfurt air outside the Messe. Their stall was peppered with hand-made posters and low-resolution pamphlets about labor activists, many of whom were women, who were being arrested in Iran.
But I love my co-fellows. I have truly found new friends. Now they are busy doing the rounds in other book fairs — Sharja, Guadalajara, etc. I hope — am sure? — to meet them again in the future.
I also had the opportunity of being connected by friends to the Philippine Studies Series at Humboldt University. Through them, we were able to organize a talk on Feminist Publishing and zine-making workshop at Hopscotch Reading Room, one of the best bookstores I have ever had the privilege of visiting.
I travelled to Berlin after visiting Weimar, home of the Bauhaus Movement (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year). I was so lucky to meet Steph and Anami, who had learned of Gantala Press through Richgail Enriquez, one of the contributors to our latest book, Makisawsaw. Steph and Anami offered to put me up for a night in their apartment in Central Berlin. It was a most lovely stay.
My talk was attended by Filipinas, half-Filipinas, Germans, Americans, a Portuguese man. The discussion was truly interesting. One of the attendees is an organizer of an annual queer small press expo, which they had set up as a response to the “capitalistic” Frankfurt Book Fair. My heart.
All in all, I had a blast in the land of Marx & Nietzsche & Einstein! & Freud, & Bach. Hoping to be back — & be able to visit Rizal’s flowers in Heidelberg.