THIS IS HOME: An Anthology of Filipino Canadian Writings

A Visit to a Toronto book launch
University of Windsor course assignment
by Stephen Weir

 


Little known group of Filipino Canadian poets use post Covid shutdown launch techniques to introduce their new anthology to Canadians. 

 

If I were able to take the way-back machine to 2019 to meet with an about-to-drop-a-new-book author, the time would be spent strategizing about the coming launch. You know, the literary version of the champagne magnum smashed across the bow of a mega-million ocean liner

 

We work for days on corralling all the famous people you can muster on the guest list, (maybe Peggie will agree to do a once-around before slipping out the side door), gin up Tyrone Edwards’ CTV E-talk bookers to come shoot a live hit at the launch party and of course strong-arm Shelagh into being our MC. And if it is an election time, we will moil and toil to get Justin to do a live Zoom love and kisses from a screen beside the podium.

 

Sounds like getting ready for the Giller or the Taylor Prizes? Yup and with good reason. If the Glitter Literary stars are properly aligned and the author shows up sober and Heather doubles up her on her book order as she leaves the launch party at the SRO King Eddie hotel, then the book will be on the Best Seller’s list in the morn.  My phone will melt as assignment editors scramble to book interviews. Netflix is wondering who this person is and more importantly who is their literary agent?

 

Sigh, just an agent’s dream. Two years of Covid restrictions has changed all that. Print Houses can’t promise when they will have the books in your hands – paper shortages, delivery delays and other supply chain headaches don’t cha know. Bookstores have closed except at Walmart and Costco’s US best seller racks. Nooo one wants to go to a literary event where the unvaccinated might accidently bang elbows. Meanwhile online, the competition, Amazon, has been hyper-activating the business of e-books and audio books.

 

Now back here in 2022 the relaxation of the Covid rules governing how Canadians can go about their daily lives has taken place. But is the business of launching books the same as it was?

 

Yes, and No. People are still buying books, maybe in even larger numbers, but the whole role of the launch has strangely been twerked in just a few months back. Publishing houses are amalgamating, authors who can’t find buyers are self-publishing and horrors, sometimes giving their product away free. Traditional media outlets are laying off book editors and dropping the arts sections and the weekend papers continue to shrink in size and readership. Reviews/Interviews with new Canadian authors and their books are a rarity. 

 

On the positive side of the coin, the modern launches are now cagey, cheap, cheerful and aimed at the Gen Zen who might not want a real book. These urban hipsters have tastes discovered and cultivated via smart phones. Rookie writers can now hold hybrid launches – live and in person – where they sign and sell hard copies, audio copies and e-books.  At the same time their I-phone takes link orders to dude and dudets from the real time launch simulcast. The post covid launches have a healthy half-life thanks to reposts on Viveo and You Tube. 

 

Sell. Harvest Clicks. Done right a mailing list of readers and new fans is created overnight andready to be used in preparation for the author’s next marketing campaign. 


Ever heard of the growing school of Filipino Canadian writers?  No? You will soon. 

A year ago, Toronto’s Magkaisa Centre launched a creative writing programme that invited all Filipino Canadians to take part in. The project gave writing workshops to young Filipino want-to-be and have them take a “deep dive into our history, struggles, and aspirations through creative writing pieces including poetry, prose, and interviews.”  

 

Although not discussed by Canada’s mainstream, the Filipino history of migration from the Philippines to Canada is a story of injustice, exploitation, and systemic racism. During Covid Filipino health workers suffered the highest rate of infection than any other racial group.

 

A year after putting the call out over 20 new authors published THIS IS HOME: An Anthology of Filipino Canadian Writings. This slim soft covered book contains short poem and prose poems, mostly in English, about the writers’ new home from the point of view of youth.

 

I heard about the new book from a unsolicited posting left on a couple of my Facebook Pagesby one of the authors. He told me they were holding an evening launch at the community city building the first Saturday in April. They didn’t have any money to publicize the event and asked people like me to put word out about the live event. And, as an online PS they asked that I tell people that can’t attend the authors’ reading and reception they could watch it online in real-time in Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver on Filipino community centre websites or shortly after it ended on YouTube.

 

There wasn’t much I could do (nothing actually) given the short notice and my own packed sched.  Because of my own overblown concerns about catching the virus I passed on attending.  After reading the pitch for the book I knew I had to watch it live on my iMac the Saturday evening 80-minute launch.

 

It was held inside the Filipino cultural centre’s 100-person Sonndr Café, judging by the pews that line two walls, the building was once a Christian Church. Twenty some round tables areplaced in front of the staging area consisting of two tall round bar tables. There is a broadcast computer station on top of a piano stool, a techi sits on the floor with mini mountain of gear. Two female MCs with handheld microphones direct incoming audience members into the hall as the doors open.

 

I can hear the crowd as they roll in.  I learn later that there were 60 ticket holders not counting the many babies in arms and small toddlers wiggling and squirming to be released onto the floor to crawl, yell and play with toys. There similar crowds arriving at Filipino community centres in Ottawa and Vancouver and seating themselves in front of large computer screens. 

For the next 90-minutes three young organizers captained a rather shaky ship. There was no programme for the audience, no bios of the author nor names of their written work.  It was mostly a night for poetry, and it was mostly read in English, although many of the poets had limited English skills.

There were 20 writers in the audience and because of serious attacks of shyness had to be cajoled and pushed to the microphones. Sounds, as one says, Mickey Mouse. It certainly was but because the subject of the poems came from the heart, it added, not subtracted to impact of the evening. 

 

Nine months ago, we launched our writing workshop series entitled This is Home. We learned about progressive arts and culture, shared stories about our experiences as Filipino Canadian youth, women, and workers— how we grew up, our experience with migration, education and working on the frontline of the pandemic,” explained the organizers.

 

Politics - Premier Ford was lambasted for his government treatment of Filipino health workers at retirement facilities and hospitalsWhere is Home? Many of the poets talk about the hardship of making dirt poor wages at multiple jobs but still sending monies back to family members they had to leave behind.  Racism – Teenage poets wonder why they are called second class citizens by white classmates and white neighbour. I did not come to this country for you to be afraid,” reads one young female poet. “I want you to come here and be brave.”

 

There was no shock on part of the clapping audience.  There wasn’t anything being said that they hadn’t experienced.  No, I sensed the people in the room were cheering out of a sense of pride for their hometown authors.

 

They sold a lot of books. I estimate 100 in Toronto alone. No mention is made of sales in the other cities. plan to place an order, but no luck so far in figuring out how to do it.


Lots could have been done to make the evening better. IT was the first book launch for the youngsters and some parents, and no launch etiquette was put into play to stop the screams and other kiddie noises while the oft masked authors gave their readings.


All authors in their 20s, were nervous but emotional in their short readings.

The organizers could have used subtitles and graphics naming the performers that night. I am waiting for my book to learn exactly what the night was all about and if there is going to be another reading night.

 

Found it worthy event to attend, live in person or virtually! Happy that this  no cost launchbrought in an estimated $2,000 for the talent and exposed those not-in-the know (most of the world)  to this new genre – Filipino Canadian Poetry authors to the public and allowed them to make important political statements!

 

STEPHEN WEIR
Stephen Weir & Associates | stephen@stephenweir.com weir31@uwin.ca
109 Castlefield Avenue, Toronto, ONM4R 1G5
Tel: 416-489-5868 | cell: 416-801-3101 

 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A publishing mystery, how does this community paper survive Covid

Where is the Hoopla for a groundbreaking Black curated exhibition at the AGO in Toronto

Poet wins the biggie - the Griffin Prize - takes home $65,000