Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Filipino as a Writer in America - Cecilia Brainard's Notes

When I give a talk, I usually prepare notes or a short writeup.  Here's a writeup, which was the basis of the brief talk I gave at the Tuklas event not too long ago. This is not a full article, but are more like "talking points" for me. 
The picture above was taken at the event. 
l-r: Paulino Lim Jr., Carlene Bonnivier, Linda Nietes, Cecilia Brainard, Giovanni Ortega

“The Filipino, as a Writer in America” by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Filipino or Filipino American Writers in America have unique challenges. There are issues that we deal with such as language, voice, subject matter, readership, publishers, and others. I’ll be talking about some of these issues.

My first book of short stories, Woman With Horns and Other Stories was published in 1987, 27 years ago, which indicates who long I have been writing. That book and the 18 others I’ve worked on are all in English. Like many Filipinos, I grew up multi-lingual, speaking Cebuano, Tagalog, and English. Even though English is my second language, it’s the language I use in my literary work. There was no careful consideration about this matter, it was the language that came naturally to me when I started scribbling in my diaries and other beginning writings. Perhaps this was because the schools I attended in the Philippines taught me in English; and also perhaps because I read books in English, starting with the Dick and Jane primers.
The use of English had no innate intention of my addressing only by English-speakers, because Filipinos are generally multilingual like me. In fact, the question of my readership does not play such a large part in my mind; the question for me in my book projects is: what do I find interesting. When I became (and still am) interested in Philippine history, I wrote stories set during specific historic times in the Philippines, such as When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, a novel set during World War II in the Philippines. I also have stories set during what Filipinos call “the Spanish times” and “the American times.” I have stories inspired by my experiences in the Philippines and in America. But my stories are not limited to Filipino or Filipino American characters, because I have all sorts of characters – a Vietnam vet, a Spanish friar, a Turkish seamstress, and many others. It all depends on what will strike me as interesting.

The books I’ve edited have probably catered to specific readers  more because many of them came about when I sensed a need for such books. For instance, I edited Fiction by Filipinos in America, when after a decade of living in America and searching during all that time for such an anthology, no such book could be found. I followed this with Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America. Later, when I found out from my Philippine publisher that there was a lack of young adult literary books, I edited Growing Up Filipino: Stories for YoungAdults, and followed this with GrowingUp Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults.  All these 4 books, by the way, are still in print and used in classrooms in the US as well as in the Philippines.

To answer the question: Has it been difficult to get published as a Filipino in America? 
Most writers have a difficult time getting their work published, and Filipino and Filipino American writers face interesting challenges. This has to do with the business end of publishing. Publishers do their work for money, and so they pay attention to what sells, who their readers are who will buy the books, and so on. Even when publishers publish literary books, they still pay attention to the book sales of such titles.  Here is where Filipino and Filipino American writers run into difficulties. Except for few titles, many Filipino and Filipino American writers have limited readership. The majority of White Anglo-Saxon Americans are not racing to buy Philippine or Philippine American literature. Unfortunately, Filipino and Filipino American readers are not buying enough of the books either, making Filipino writers difficult to make money from --- from the point of view of mainstream publishers.

So, for many Filipino writers in America, it’s a struggle to get their work published. Some have found publishers in the Philippines; a few have found American mainstream publishers, some have published on their own. E-books have made it easier and cheaper for some to get their works published. We Filipino writers in America have had to be very creative to get our work out there. 

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tags: literature, Philippines, writers, authors, Filipino American, writings
This is all for now,

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