The Art of Anthologizing

Hello! I am Faye Cura of Gantala Press and we’ll be sharing how we have been putting together various anthologies as a feminist small press.

Gantala Press prioritizes publishing the narratives of communities over that of individual authors, so most of our works are anthologies or collections of writings. Our very first book, Danas: mga pag-aakda ng babae ngayon (2017) collects art and texts on various topics, using various forms or genres, written in various languages. Our latest book (in 2021) is an anthology of personal essays by women’s health rights advocates from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

For this presentation, we’ll be sharing some steps you can take in coming up with your own anthology.

First, you need to be able to articulate what it is you want your anthology to tackle, as this will guide you in determining who the contributors will be, and how to approach the editing aspect of the book production. Think of it as similar to articulating a thesis statement, or crystallizing the main idea or position of your book. Do you want an anthology that collects factual/historical/personal accounts, or do you want a literary anthology that showcases the newest artistic styles and techniques? Being clear on what your anthology is will identify whom to invite to write and to what extent the pieces shall be edited or “curated.”

But be open to surprises and changes as well, to how the main idea of the project could develop in the course of production, to where the process could lead you. For example, for Danas, we just wanted to have a feel of women writers’ preoccupations and concerns during that time, 2015. It was as vague and accommodating as that. Our openness led to many discoveries, such as the realization that one need not be a professional writer to have her work included in an anthology, or the confirmation that women’s experiences are valid experiences, valid enough to be documented in a book. Danas also led to friendships with different women, friendships that led to other projects and which still persist today.

Of course, an anthology’s subject can also be as specific as possible, as in Daloy which is a collection of writings and art by former migrant women of Batis AWARE. This was the result of a series of kuwentuhan sessions and workshops facilitated by writers and artists with the Batis women.

Identify the purpose of your anthology. Putting together an anthology takes time, energy, and commitment, so having a clear purpose would help you complete the task more efficiently. Having a clear purpose would also help you manage the project in terms of setting timelines and budgets. For example, many of our anthologies were put together to support campaigns of people’s organizations. Kumusta Kayo? was conceptualized to raise money for aid of peasant families neglected by the government in the pandemic. Since we had no budget for printing, we distributed the digital version of the book in exchange for monetary donations. Of course, many anthologies don’t really have a purpose except to, for instance, collect the output of a writing workshop, like “Biag dagiti agay-aywan.” But that should not stop the anthologist from looking at other ways to maximize the anthology’s potential. The anthology “Magbunyi!”’s main purpose was to tell the story of the sisters of the Notre Dame de Sion congregation. The sisters wanted it to be in the form of comics, but Gantala decided to invite different women artists to illustrate the stories for the added purpose of documenting the kinds of women’s art that are available today.

Inviting contributors to your anthology can go several ways: you can ask specific writers or artists to submit a piece, or you can release an open call for submissions. We usually do both, resulting in a richer, more varied collection of voices. Again, knowing the purpose of your anthology will help resolve the matter of honorarium, for example. Contributors expect to be paid, especially for books that will be made commercially available. But for books whose purpose is to raise funds for causes or campaigns, writers and artists are only too happy to contribute their skills.

What makes an anthology fun is the variety of voices and stories available in it. We at Gantala Press love working with other groups. Collaboration is important especially when we wish to publish the stories of communities. We need organizations or institutions to connect us with them, like Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women to the peasant communities or KAPATID to their network of political prisoners. Needless to say, it is important to remain trustworthy, reliable, responsible, honest, and sincere.

Ensuring representation is central to putting together an anthology. Gantala Press was formed in response to the lack of women’s representation in many anthologies. Even now, few women make it as majority contributors or editors of anthologies. When we started creating anthologies, we immediately noticed the lack of writings from the basic masses. We mostly received works by aspiring and professional writers, or members of the petty bourgeois class. So, we always make it a point to include works by women who do not necessarily call themselves writers, such as farmers, workers, members of the urban poor. We also always try to include works by queer women, and indigenous women, as well as works in other vernacular languages, in our anthologies. Likewise, we love including works that are collectively written by organizations.

Build on your previous works, which means build on the relationships you’ve formed. One of the editors of our latest anthology, Panaglagip: The North Remembers, was a contributor to our very first anthology. Her co-editor is the sister of Jill Cariño, who wrote the Introduction to our comics on the Chico River Dam struggle. Building on previous works could also mean publishing a second edition of the anthology, as in our plant-based cookbook Makisawsaw. The first volume was put together in response to the NutriAsia workers’ strike, while the second volume was released to help fund a community kitchen program during the pandemic. In 2020-2021, we were asked by the UK-based Tilted Axis Press to curate a collection of writings by Filipinas in translation. Our body of work allowed us to put together a comprehensive collection of pieces, both from our past publications as well as from other sources.

Give back to the community. Anthologies can be powerful in informing and educating the public on current issues, as well as in supporting campaigns. Majority of our anthologies were produced to help raise funds for campaigns, such as Lutong Gipit which supports a fundraising drive to buy farm implements for militarized peasant communities, or Saloobin, a first collection of works by women political prisoners, which contributed to the fund to release “Tondo 3” as well as to buy personal hygiene supplies for the women.

Dream about your next anthology! Any topic or issue can be anthologized, and an anthology can be enhanced by visual art as well, making it even richer and more comprehensive. So let your imagination run wild! The power of the anthology is that it remains a current and relevant literary form that also has great potential to reach a wider audience.

Edited version of the presentation prepared for the First Indie Pub Con, 2021

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