I can still remember the moments Irally and I shared at the National Bookstore branch in Gateway Mall. It has to be one of our favourite ‘literary trysts’, first because it is perhaps the largest NBS branch with four-storey-worth of books and second, it is situated in the most accessible and strategic location for metro-commute: Cubao. We could not stop from talking about our favourite novels and authors once we claim our perfect spot in the seeming labyrinthine shelves of books. In between those walls of thick chunks of papers, we whispered our dream to become authors ourselves. We would picture our names printed on a book spine and have our work displayed along with the best-selling titles of the month. When we daydreamed all of these, I knew things will happen just how we imagined them. Maybe I am simply being ambitious but I believe in the power of invocation. It turned out Irally has a better grip when it comes to clinging to our dream because the life of a published writer landed in her backyard way sooner.
Irally self-published her first zine But They Don’t Know It, Do They? while juggling all the stressful stuff a college student has to deal with. Her readership quickly grew, prompting her to write another book called To The Brightest. Although I was not able to have my own copy right away, I definitely am one of the proudest friends cheering her for such success. There is an incredible sensation whenever I think about the woman whom I used to navigate the aisles of a bookshop is now an actual author herself! Unlike her first zine, To The Brightest is available for online purchase which opened international readership for Irally. My Facebook newsfeed was suddenly inundated with pictures of her readers from right across the globe, giving compliments about how much they enjoyed reading her poems.
A year later, Irally announced that another ‘gem’ is on its way. This year, Like A River became the latest addition to her growing number of books. I saw the massive support from her readers who were all eager to place their orders and grab a copy of the new title. The reception was so strong it inspired me to offer a suggestion to Irally about holding a book launch for the official release of Like A River. Apparently, she loved the idea and became instantly committed to organizing the event. After mustering the support of our ever-loyal friends, the launch came to fruition.
Book Launch turned into Art Fest
As much as we want to label the event as a plain book launch, Irally and I knew right at the very onset of planning that it could be more than just a day about her success. Irally owes the flamboyant covers of her books from two of our artist friends, Zandra Martinez and Michael Lavilla. They both have gifted hands which can make any subject into an artistic masterpiece. And so, we thought of having a mini art exhibition to let Zandra and Michael showcase their collection. What was initially conceived as a book launch has turned into an art festival. All their paintings were peppered around the venue, adding to the already cosy vibe of Tweedle Book Cafe.
Guests had a complete ‘art fest experience’ as they snag lovely bookmarks for every purchase of Like A River. Each bookmark was hand-made by the budding artist and our resident calligraphist, Bea Vargas. (She made a personalized one for me!)
We also invited two mental health awareness organisations which Irally is actively involved in. The participation of Silakbo PH and MentalHealthPH is our way of making a statement on mental health awareness, especially that the inspiration of Like A River is the importance of conversation and winning our own inner battles. The two organisations were represented by Rissa Coronel and Roy Dahildahil, respectively.
Coronel talked about the vision of their group and how they incorporate the promotion of mental health awareness with artworks and literary compositions through their zine called Cathartic. Silakbo PH publishes its own zine, featuring submissions made by people from various walks of life. According to Coronel, their effort to collect works from artists encourages artistic expression on the status of mental health in the Philippines. Dahildahil, meanwhile, elaborated the current efforts of the government and private institutions in making our country a friendlier environment for the subject of mental health awareness.
My First Literary Hosting Stint
Aside from having the pleasure to witness my friends climb their ladder of success, I too had my fair share of fulfilment during the event. Hosting the book launch is certainly an incredible opportunity for someone who is both a lover of books and conversations. As a fan of Jennifer Byrne, Leigh Sales, and Erica Wagner, I am obsessed with the idea of being able to throw questions to artists and hear them tell the story behind their creations. Presiding events like literary debates and book club discussions help me understand not only the work itself but the process it underwent in order to gain its present form. Being the host also allowed me to cast my personal views on certain topics like self-publication, the elaborate process of choosing a subject, and the separation of identities between the artwork and the artist.
Irally knew how excited I was to hold the microphone and vocally expressed my thoughts. I did host a lot of gatherings before but never a book launch. Hosting the event is a great opportunity and doing it for a friend made the experience extra special. My goal was to motivate Irally, Zandra, and Michael to speak their minds and own the day as if it is the big break they all deserve. I refuse to be called a bragger but I think I succeed on that part. Seeing them talk with no single trace of fear or intimidation reassured me that I accomplished my job.
The success of the event is made possible by every single person who took part and rendered their dedication. We have a lot of photos of Irally signing copies of her book, the same woman who once dreamed to become an author. Now as I recall everything in retrospect, I realise how much truth there is in the adage that dreams do come true. After seeing countless smiles during the book launch, I am sure there is more than one dream fulfilled on that day. Kudos #TeamLikeARiver!
Grab your copies of Like A River and To The Brightest by clicking the links below: