Eileen R. Tabios is a poet working in multiple genres and in-between. She also loves books by writing, reading, publishing, critiquing, romancing and advocating for them. This blog will feature her bibliophilic activities with posts on current book engagements and links to her books and projects related to books.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I don't do Facebook (there's an "Eileen Tabios" Facebook page but I think FB generated it; I didn't).  But I understand that Amy Tan's Facebook page described how fellow author Mitch Albon was/is in the Philippines and wished to help resurrect school libraries in areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (known as "Typhoon Yolanda" in the Philippines); as a first step, Mr. Albom called upon bandmate members (a band whose members are writers) to donate 10 copies each of their books.  Everyone was in -- Dave Barry, Scott Turow, James McBride, Greg Iles, Stephen King, Sam Barry and Amy Tan herself.  Then the bandmates were asked to forward the donation call to folks they knew and pledges that came in within hours included Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), Alice Hoffman, Harlan Coben, Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman, Yiyun Li, Robert Haas, Brenda Hillman, Rabih Alameddine, Arthur Golden Mark Childress, HarperCollins, Billy Collins, Sheila Kohler, Jason Roberts, Lisa See, etc.

In response, a couple of Filipino poet-scholar-critics noted that Filipino and Filipino-American writers seemed to not be called to participate (at least to the date of their comments) from this well-intentioned act.  And without such involvement, saith one respondent, it becomes just another instance of the "white savior complex" ("white" here is symbolic as well as literal).

The incident came to my attention because VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA and my name were mentioned in the reactions to Amy Tan's post, specifically with the hope that Amy Tan consider spreading the word about this fundraising anthology through her obviously wide network.

I don't have a dog or pony in this show (did I just mangle a metaphor?) and am not inclined to get involved in this particular controversy beyond blog-noting this incident for the files (yes, I use my blog as also a file cabinet).  But I am aware that international humanitarian aid is a complicated and messy affair.* This would seem to be one of those complications probably not expected by Amy Tan and the other well-intentioned authors.  

I also wonder if Philippine publishers are doing something similar or if they can afford to do so; it certainly would be nice to stock up Filipino libraries with … Filipino literature.  Maybe Western writers and their publishers could send books not necessarily by themselves or the authors they publish.  

At this point, I would "normally" say what many relief organizations ask, "Please just send money instead."  The reason I don't is that cash, even money charged with buying books, would have the risk of being co-opted by corrupt elements, hence my call in the prior paragraph for continuing to send books if that's what the group wants to donate, but with choices made sensitive to the riches of "local" literature.  Or, if you send money, at least be sure the group to which you send the money can be trusted to apply it for the stated purpose.  Like I said, international aid is complicated and often messy.


P.S.  I wrote the above last night ... and the more I think about it (this morning), the more uneasy I become over the notion of libraries sprouting up -- in a country that's already gone through centuries of colonialism -- with offerings that are dominated by Western offerings partly because they have the resources to donate.  When it comes to culture, money is undeniably an influence.  But surely we should do better today when WE -- after decades (since this is an old story) of studying/researching/understanding cultural influence, culture, and influence -- can pinpoint the implication of books not representing one's culture being the dominant presence in one's library.

As rebuilding takes place, there's talk about rebuilding "better" in terms of more safe infrastructure, more environmentally-friendly infrastructure and the like.  Let's rebuild libraries to reflect ALSO the culture of the people who hopefully will be reading in them.  Western books should be present -- YES! But so should Filipino authors ... how is this being addressed?  

And let's not wait for "Westerners" to address this for us.  While I repeat my hope that Western authors and publishers (who usually have more money) can help out with rebuilding libraries in a more appropriate way than doling out their books, Filipino authors and publishers also can act.  Hopefully, there'll be more news along this front that I can report in the future...

(*  Synchronistically, I just finished reading an interesting memoir, CHASING CHAOS: MY DECADE IN AND OUT OF HUMANITARIAN AID by Jessica Alexander.)


  1. Hi Eileen, in my FB post (I am one of the two FB posters you refer to above), I added the following paragraph --

    "The books that are being donated and collected from the outpouring of care, will not impact recipients to the fullest extent they could, unless the lives and towns and cities destroyed can be rehabilitated, and survivors become increasingly able to find sustainable livelihood."

    Humanitarian aid efforts are for the most part well intentioned, but I agree with you that these are "complicated and messy" affairs. I also agree with you on the points that when gifts are given, there should be some thought toward the usefulness of the gift/s to the particular contexts of the intended receivers; in the case of donations of books, it's wonderful that the value of literature is acknowledged in such gestures. It is even better if there is some evidence that there has been reflection on the value of what it's like to read "indigenous" voices coming from one's own communities.

    May there be a greater concerted/inclusive effort toward these goals.

  2. Luisa,
    I have appreciated your thoughts and thoughtfulness on this issue. Thank you,