Manila publisher breathes new life into a classic
NEW YORK—In the ever-diminishing constellation of book publishers, when quite a number have imploded and each venture has become ever more of a gamble, it’s welcome news that a new Manila-based publisher—a nascent star, as it were—has been born, with the colorful title, Exploding Galaxies. And its mission is even rarer: to reclaim literary treasures sliding towards the black hole of unwarranted obscurity.
Per its website (https://explodinggalaxies.com) the new kid on the block “will bring lost classics of Filipino writing back into print and in active circulation, as well as into conversations in and around Philippine literature. Exploding Galaxies will publish two to four books each year, with a focus on novels and short story collections, in English, Tagalog, or regional languages. Each book’s spine carries the year of first publication, so that each collected copy can be lined up on a shelf by year.”
Founded by Mara Coson, a young entrepreneur and a writer herself, Exploding Galaxies made its debut earlier this month, when it released Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s But for the Lovers, first published in the US in 1970. Brilliantly experimental, the novel drew critical acclaim. Nick Joaquin had this to say: “But for the Lovers is an outrageous book. It’s very funny and savage and grim and beautiful. The style is a sustained audacity.” Martin Levin of The New York Times wrote, “[Nolledo’s] deliberately disjointed style merges personalities and events into one stunning nightmare—with a momentum all its own, and a built in, kaleidoscopic continuity.” (The multi-awarded Nolledo also wrote short stories, plays, and screenplays. He passed away in 2004, felled by pancreatic cancer at the age of 71.)
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Sadly, though the novel earned critical acclaim, it wasn’t a commercial hit and so fell out of print. Exploding Galaxies couldn’t arguably have chosen a more fitting work for its debut, and I for one am ready to be ensorcelled by Nolledo’s words.
I suggested an email interview with the publisher, to which she agreed.
At a time when publishing has become an even riskier venture, given how few publishers are able to make a go of it, what impelled you to found Exploding Galaxies? Are you a writer yourself?
I think it helped to have a singular purpose: to republish Filipino novels that needed to be back out on shelves. And that first book was Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s But for the Lovers. A press like Exploding Galaxies had only gotten off the ground because so many people have been waiting for this novel. Without readers, this would have been far too crazy to attempt. And now is really the moment for the book – but then again, it’s been the moment for so long! But here we are. So all that risk is just met with the faith and confidence that a novel this masterful and fearless will find its readers.
I write fiction, but being a publisher channels my inclination towards literature another way – maybe a way I prefer more, actually – and I also enjoy working with writing that has already been published – it’s like being urged by a book to go well beyond your own very personal enjoyment of it. Writing and reading demand solitude, but publishing demands a team and many people reading together.
What made you choose Exploding Galaxies, with its nod to the late artist David Medalla, as the name of your venture?
There’s a story–but I don’t know if it’s true—that David Medalla when he was young had slipped into a ship, fell asleep reading a book, and woke up in Hong Kong. It’s biographical, but it may also be fiction. It’s a curious name; actually it was the name of his commune the Exploding Galaxy, and the plural form is also the same title as his monograph. Whenever I read the name I think about a particular ease of possibilities and the pleasures of exploration, as I saw through his life’s practice. Thankfully I got to know him even though it was in his final years, and got the blessing while he was alive to have a name inspired by him. I didn’t intend any cosmological analogies in the naming, but the longer the name sits, the more I actually like the image of bright distant stars, all past, making its way into the present through our act of witnessing them. Some people have said the books make a constellation, which is a great way to think about how these books might start to connect.
I’d love to hear about how you and EG decided on Nolledo’s But for the Lovers as its initial reprint.
I felt absolutely compelled to republish But for the Lovers. Back then I didn’t even think about whether it would be easy or difficult: I just knew it needed to be done. I was figuring out how to be a publisher, and building the team and the shape of the press as I went along. I already had Sam Marcelo and Mark Amoguis already on board—they had actually just helped me finish digitally transcribing and proofreading a book that ultimately wasn’t fated to be Exploding Galaxies’ first title. We didn’t even have a name for what we were doing then, just a purpose. And when the chance to republish But for the Lovers came, we went for it again, and that’s when the press really got started, really became something, had momentum, we got Gina Apostol to write the foreword, Don Jaucian on board as editor, Miguel Mari to design the series template, and many others. But for the Lovers brought the press to life and so is its beginning—and what an incredible book to start with!
What will EG publish next?
We’ll be publishing Linda Ty-Casper’s The Three-Cornered Sun later this year – a historical novel set in 1896, during the Philippine Revolution. The book is an incredibly powerful accomplishment that surprisingly very few people have read – as I often quote Ty-Casper: “History is our biography; literature is our autobiography.” I truly see that in this book. Hopefully through republishing the book, it can be enjoyed by many. Sometimes it’s the pull of a book whose writing carries some indescribable power – it’s fate, sometimes a novel demands it.
Which Tagalog or non-English language work will EG reprint, if already chosen?
We are still exploring options. But what we hope to do is publish side-by-side translations for these books—for example twin editions of Cebuano and English, or Tagalog and English. There’s a lot we’ve yet to discover in this exploration!
Distribution is essential. Aside from online orders, which bookstores, bookstore chains, will carry BftL? Will you have your own physical space?
We’re carrying the But for the Lovers in really good bookshops across the country—in Manila we have Artbooks.PH and a new bookstore by a press called Everything’s Fine; Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio; Libraria in Dumaguete; Savage Mind in Naga, and we’re continuing to grow this list. We will also carry the books in the big two—National Bookstore and Fully Booked. We really want to keep this book on shelves and in the hands of readers for as long as possible, so we’re keeping a steady ship. We have plans for a physical space, but for now we’re taking it one day at a time!
Copyright L.H. Francia 2023