Filipino books

How newly-launched press Exploding Galaxies is reviving out-of-print Filipino literary gems

Sophia Gonzaga

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How newly-launched press Exploding Galaxies is reviving out-of-print Filipino literary gems

IN PRINT. Publishing house Exploding Galaxies launches with the first Philippine edition of Wilfrido D. Nolledo's 'But For the Lovers.'

Sophia Gonzaga/Rappler

The publishing house launches with its first title, Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s ‘But for the Lovers’

MANILA, Philippines – The very first Philippine edition of Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s 1970 novel But for the Lovers is out for new generations to enjoy, and it’s all thanks to newly-launched Manila-based publishing house Exploding Galaxies.

LAUNCH. Copies of Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s novel ‘But for the Lovers’ are on display at the launch of publishing house Exploding Galaxies. Photos by Sophia Gonzaga

On Saturday, June 10, Exploding Galaxies held a double-launch of the book and the press at The Alley at Karrivin in Makati City, featuring a chapter reading by Gawad Urian Award-winning actress Angeli Bayani.

First published in New York in 1970 and then reprinted in 1994, But for the Lovers tells the story of a ragtag cast of characters living in 1945 Manila, at a time when the city is war-torn and the Philippines is on the cusp of its promised and long-delayed liberation. In this new edition’s foreword, Insurrecto author Gina Apostol says that the book is of its own kind, coming “seemingly from nowhere to speak an experience of trauma unspeakably Filipino.”

At the helm of Exploding Galaxies is publisher and Aliasing author Mara Coson, who’d ventured into the local publishing scene during the pandemic. In introducing But for the Lovers, she thanked Nolledo’s family, who took part in the launch via Zoom. “Mrs. Nolledo, I emailed her out of the blue one day and she just trusted me even if all I had was belief and zero experience,” Coson said.

Many things justify the republishing of But for the Lovers, with access being the most important. In a speech, Exploding Galaxies editor and Brief Histories writer Don Jaucian said that upon announcing the release of the book on Twitter, readers shared that they had only read it as one copy for an entire class, or photocopied and passed to the next person. “So as a lover of Philippine fiction, I’m glad that we have a Philippine edition of this novel,” said Jaucian.

Vogue Philippines features editor Audrey Carpio reinforces this rationale in the book’s introduction, which says that despite the praises that have been sung for Nolledo’s writing, it is difficult to access – and therefore not read enough. While historian and writer Nick Joaquin once said that Nolledo was “Philippine baroque at its most outrageous,” there isn’t enough of his work in circulation for readers to bear witness to his genius.

Exploding Galaxies changes this. The new press is focused on republishing pieces of contemporary Filipino fiction that have gone out of print, rediscovering “lost classics of Philippine fiction whose revival may illuminate new stories of our time,” as the website promises.

In an email conversation with Rappler, Coson and Jaucian tell the story behind Exploding Galaxies:

Can you tell us how Exploding Galaxies came to be?

Coson: I’d been wanting to start a press for some time, but it was only when the chance to republish Nolledo’s But for the Lovers came that it really finally happened. It’s truly a great Filipino classic. Raw, brilliant, muscular, violent – written with such an incredible and breathless mastery of the English language, I felt compelled to publish the book no matter what. Exploding Galaxies took shape as we worked on the novel – the team really pulled through, and with fate and a lot of readers waiting for the republication of Nolledo, everything fell into place.

Aside from giving people better access to Philippine fiction that’s out of print and out of reach, what else necessitates Exploding Galaxies as a publishing house?

Jaucian: I think that the work we’re doing here in Exploding Galaxies is an expression of solidarity with the rest of Philippine publishers who are tirelessly putting out great classic and contemporary works. We’ve long admired the efforts of university presses and small presses and there’s still so much to be done, still so many books to be published. We hope that we can make a small contribution by publishing the works that have slipped through the cracks or have been overlooked because they’ve been out of print for so long.

Typically, publishing houses will receive book proposals and synopses, and the editors have to pore through them. What’s the selection process like in the case of republishing? And is Exploding Galaxies doing anything different in that regard?

Coson: We have a singular purpose at Exploding Galaxies: to publish out-of-print works of great Philippine fiction. This also means that a lot of the books we publish are already long completed novels, we don’t receive manuscripts, and most of the writers we will publish are no longer living. We select books by the degree that it compels us – publishing each book is a sizable time and financial commitment and so far, But for the Lovers and our upcoming titles are books that we are completely overcome by – and we need to be because of the (rewarding) challenge involved to get each book in the hands of many readers.

Why start with ‘But for the Lovers?’

Jaucian: But for the Lovers is, in a way, a perfect candidate to launch a press with goals such as ours. The novel has only been in circulation in the United States since its publication so Filipino readers who want a copy will have to order it online and have it shipped overseas. With the Philippine edition of But for the Lovers, Exploding Galaxies is clear in what kind of works that we want to publish: great works that haven’t had much time in circulation here in the country.

Every year, Exploding Galaxies plans to put out two to four books, which are either novels or short story collections in English and the Filipino languages. A more interesting feature of the press’ titles would be the original publishing dates printed on the spines, so they can be collected and sorted by year. Their edition of But for the Lovers flaunts “1970” in bright orange.

With a successful launch and increasing interest in Nolledo’s work and Philippine literature as a whole, one cannot help but think that Filipiniana is on the verge of a rebirth. And Exploding Galaxies stands as a promise not only to Filipino writers of the past, but also to those emerging today, that their work will not die in the march of time. –

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