Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Author Albert Lang is defending the idea that Filipinos are readers. “Sinasabi nila na hindi nagbabasa ang Pilipino,” says Lang. “Pero isa itong malaking mito. Nagbabasa ang Pilipino. Hindi lang gusto ng nag-su-survey ang mga binabasa natin.”
Lang is referring to romance pocketbooks, the slim paperback volumes publishing house Precious Hearts Romances is known to produce. Since 1992, Precious Hearts Romances has distributed work by writers like Albert Lang to a devoted local fan base. Today, the company is responsible for 20 new titles monthly, as well as a new imprint called Pride Lit, the first Filipino pop lit imprint that champions the narratives of the LGBTQ+ community.
As the first Filipino pop lit imprint for the queer community, Pride Lit champions the narratives of its target community.
“Kailangan nang magkaroon ang LGBTQ+ community ng espasyo sa larangan ng literature or publishing,” says author and founder Jun Matias. “Kaya namin naisipang simulan ang Pride Lit.” According to Matias, his selection process considers the popular taste first. Like Precious Hearts Romances, Pride Lit favors romance that feels current, relatable, and easy to consume.
Albert Lang (“Sylvestre’s Wedding”) is one of six authors with new work published under Pride Lit. He is joined by writers Leonna (“Mahal Kita, Pero”), Nina Satomi (“Red Briefs, Young Love and Other Superstitions”), Lush Ericson ("Left Brainer Community"), Alex Rosas (“Gay’s Anatomy”), and John Jack G. Wigley (“Kadenang Bahaghari”). With the exception of Wigley, a literature professor making his first foray into fiction, all are seasoned contributors to the pop lit genre.
“Lahat tayo ay mambabasa,” says Wigley. “We just have to find out what kind of material we like to read. [Pride Lit Publishing] are giving more options to readers. Any movement of this kind is, I think, positive in literature.”
Wigley’s first work of fiction, “Kadenang Bahaghari,” tells the story of what he calls a “double bind,” the intimate relations of a student and professor who are both men. Four different characters take turns narrating the story of forbidden love. All come to realize the true nature of their respective desires.
The other releases are less straightforward. For example, Rosas’ “Gay’s Anatomy” works in a common occurrence in pop lit, the “Freaky Friday”-style identity trade. There are 534 stories tagged “bodyswap” on digital lit and fan-fic website Wattpad. “Gay’s Anatomy” uses this trope to explore the flimsiness of gender identity as it is commonly understood.
In the book, a gay man swaps bodies with a gay woman in a freak accident involving a jeep ride. Have the characters’ dreams come true? Or has the author simply conflated sexual orientation and gender identity?
Lush Ericson explores the multiverse in “Agustin and Ariston’s Version of the Universe,” where Agustin soothes his broken heart in the company of a male escort. During their time on the clock, Agustin tells the story of his failed love as it could have happened in alternate universes. The exercise leads both to confront the truth of their realities.
Jun Matias, founder and head publisher of the press behind Precious Hearts Romances, Lampara Books, and Pride Lit, believes in the need for accessible, engaging, and popular literature like these new titles.
“Ang pinaka-objective namin is magbasa ang Pilipino. Basta nagbabasa ang Pinoy, dapat masaya tayo. Sa Wattpad for example, number two yata [ang Precious Hearts Romances],” says Matias.
All novels are written in Filipino, and are available via the Precious Hearts Romances online shop and Precious Hearts Romances retail locations at SM Mall of Asia and SM North EDSA.