Bringing in the written word from the peripheries

In pursuit of the Jesuit mission “to reach out to people beyond their frontiers” in Mindanao, Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan’s (Xavier Ateneo) XU PRESS presents itself as an “alternative press” for the Mindanao-focused writings, research and literature, which would otherwise would not have been published by the country’s “Manila-centered” publishing industry.

When members of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus met Pope Francis in Manila in 2015, history’s first Jesuit pope advised them to “Go to the poor. Go to the peripheries. Always put transcendence in the center of our lives, so contemplation, prayer, devotion to God.”

“I envision XU Press to provide a venue for publication by Mindanaoan writers as well as non-Mindanaoan writers writing on Mindanao,” says Elio Garcia, PhD, XU Press Manager. “Currently, we publish literature, literary studies, and social science books that advance Mindanaoan identity, history, and culture (alongside the usual instructional materials used by XU students).”

XU Press was conceptualized in 2007 as a publishing arm of Xavier Ateneo by then University President Fr Jose Ramon Villarin SJ to systematize its academic and scholarly publications. 

As a University-based publisher, XU Press plays a role in publishing instructional materials pertinent to the academic curricula and books that address the knowledge gaps in the region. This latter role, in view of the scarcity of publishing outfits in the region, has made XU Press vital in promoting awareness of Mindanao to the bigger world.

Set up by Hilly Ann Quiaoit, Ph D, under the Kinaadman Research Center (now Kinaadman: University Research Office) during her term as Director, XU Press was formally established in 2008 with the launching of The Immortal Sea, a collection of lectures, addresses and homilies by the late Fr Miguel Bernad, SJ.

Since then the Press has evolved through time, producing textbooks as a staple product, on top of Kinaadman Journal which is its flagship publication, notes former XU Press Manager, Arlene J. Yandug, PhD, who now serves as its Editor.

The Journal is now bracing for its bigger online presence through the Online Journal System, “which is necessary for its indexing and knowing its impact or metrics,” says Garcia.

As XU Press Manager, Garcia looks forward to setting in motion priority projects of the office.  Among its upcoming books is the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Philippine Folk Beliefs and Customs, the late Fr. Demetrio SJ’s magnum opus.

Noting the growth of this mission-driven publishing outfit through the years, Yandug says that XU Press has “slowly, but steadily ventured to publish books that cover a wider range of topics and cultural expressions, including poetry, interviews, and anthologies.”  

According to her, XU Press occupies a crucial niche in promoting local authors and pockets of knowledge which have a small chance of being published in Manila’s big publishing outfits where there’s bigger and tighter competition.

Songs Sprung from Native Soils, edited by Ricardo M. de Ungria, was the 39th National Book Awardee for Best Book in Literary History in English.

The Press’s efforts have been rewarded when one of its books, Songs Sprung from Natives Soils (2019) edited by Ricardo M. de Ungria, won the 39th National Book Award for Best Book of Literary History in English this year, a recognition not only of the author, but also of what the Press and the University stand for.

De Ungria says he chose to have the book published by XU Press “because they print creative works and are not uptight about publishing works by non-XU people” like himself.

Author Ricardo de Ungria (left) with Dr. Christine Godinez Ortega, signs books during the book launch at Xavier University on Feb 21, 2020 (Courtesy of XU Press)

“In my book, I talk in my introduction about the history of our arts institutions and the ‘decentralization’ strategy of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in post-EDSA times, and its effects on the production of arts in the different regions,” he noted.

It compiles the personal stories of eight Mindanao writers through interviews, revealing the underlying paradigms, values, and creative processes of these authors who grew up mostly in the various areas of Mindanao.

“This is the first time that XU Press won an award such as this, and the timing could not have been more propitious, as the office with its new manager is gearing up for the future with strategic plans,” Yandug stressed.

Ricky de Ungria (seated, 3rd from left) with XU faculty and guests .(Courtesy of XU Press)

Garcia remarks how a lot of Mindanaoan writers come to XU Press to publish their works because they see XU as an important academic institution that contributes largely to scholarly works pertaining to Mindanao–thanks to the legacy of scholar giants Fr. Miguel Bernad, Fr Francisco Demetrio, and Fr Francis Madigan, who published groundbreaking works on Mindanao studies, teaching and mentoring scholars who followed in their footsteps.

“We are aware that there are a lot of writers in the region, whose works need to be showcased, and by publishing with XU Press, we are balancing the ecosystem of publishing since we are among the few university-based presses outside Manila. In a sense, we participate in the decentering of knowledge production,” Garcia said.

Alongside local presses, XU Press hopes to gain leverage in drawing attention to the distinctiveness of local cultures through publication of works on Mindanao, and thus contribute to the local publication industry and flourishing of the knowledge ecosystem that is reflective of the country’s diversity.

Due to its conservative two-person staff, however, XU Press could only take a maximum of two to three publications a year, inclusive of the Kinaadman Journal.

Garcia acknowledges the constraints posed by its personnel, relative youth, and budget limits, noting how it takes time to cultivate a relationship with the reading public and the wherewithal to publish emerging and established writers. He believes Xavier Ateneo can meet these challenges by investing in human and technical resources “so we can meet the writers exactly where they are and accelerate the production of vetted knowledge.”

Tapping grant-giving institutions such as National Book Development Board (NBDB) can also help offset publication costs and provide support for writers who want to develop their manuscript.

He cites Ricky de Ungria’s  Moro and Lumad Fund dedicated solely to the publication of the works of Moro and Lumad writers as another example. Not the least, Garcia identifies author care as another way to strengthen a steady flow of titles, not only after publication, but even way before they submit their manuscripts.

“We hope that XU Press can provide guidance and conversations for writers who need to incubate their work, especially the emerging ones, by organizing workshops, forums, demystifying the publication process, and linking writers to those who can mentor and provide support.”


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