Karina Bolasco: Publishing disruptor

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 09,2023 - 07:45 AM

Maria Karina A. Bolasco had been blessed with a job she actually enjoys doing—publishing books. From National Bookstore to Anvil Publishing, and lately the Ateneo de Manila University Press, she was, for over four decades, a disruptor who opened windows in an otherwise boring, airless house.

Her successor has pretty big shoes to fill: choosing sensible and relevant titles, and offering a mix of bestsellers to offset the investment on significant titles that need support, like poetry collections. Worse, the new director has to deal with university red tape to keep accounts in the black rather than red.

Bolasco was named publisher of the year several times: 11 of the 26 years she was at Anvil Publishing, and six of the seven years she was with the Ateneo Press. She closes her publishing career with the Lifetime Achievement award by the Manila Critics Circle and the Hildegarde award from St. Scholastica’s College. With enough laurels to rest on during a well-deserved retirement, Bolasco can finally sit down and write her own books. Ironic that she published hundreds of books and not a single one of her own.

At a German Embassy reception, sometime in 1990, while I was politely coaxing a tough piece of pork from a barbeque stick, Bolasco introduced herself. That awkward beginning turned into a life-long friendship and spawned two dozen books between us. I was cold and disinterested when we first met. She asked if I would be interested in compiling a selection of my Daily Globe columns into a book. I lamely said, “yes, let’s see,” and moved back to the buffet table.

Three publishers had asked the same question before, only to back off when I showed interest. Once, I considered self-publishing, consoling my bruised ego with the thought that Rizal self-published his three books, the two novels with loans from friends. Publishers had warned that historical essays were not commercially viable, more so because readers had probably saved the columns as clippings. One made a bold prediction: At best, I would sell a thousand copies in five years. His advice: if I had the capital, I should publish other people’s books!

But Bolasco followed up on the manuscript and gave her office address at the Rudgen Building on Shaw Boulevard, the same building that housed the Globe. I did not know then that my real publisher was Ben C. Ramos, who owned the Globe, Anvil, and Rudgen Building. I met Ramos only recently, long after Bolasco had moved to the Ateneo Press.

We managed the thick envelope of faint photocopies from the Globe (1987-1990): all the Rizal-related columns went into “Rizal without the Overcoat,” while the remainder went into “Looking Back,” the name the late E. Aguilar Cruz cobbled up for my newspaper column. Those were the first Anvil trade books. They sold well and were reprinted numerous times. With the exception of Nick Joaquin’s long essays on Philippine history (also published by Ben Ramos), the only compilations of history columns were Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s “The Philippines and the Filipinos” (1977), and E. Aguilar Cruz’s “Maynila and other explorations” (1978), which were a respite from dull textbooks or even duller academic texts.

Bolasco saw a need for popular Philippine history and gave readers my books illustrated with unusual archival photos. Today, such photos have lost their rarity on the internet where they are shared, often without attribution or at least a useful caption. Buyers judged the books by the witty covers designed by, believe it or not, Ibarra Crisostomo! We also had catchy titles: “Aguinaldo’s Breakfast,” “Bonifacio’s Bolo,” “Mabini’s Ghost,” and “Luna’s Moustache.” Before we ran out of heroes to title my books with, we did generic titles like “101 Stories of the Philippine Revolution,” then numbered the Looking Back series from one to “sawa.”

I was once reminded that a popularizer or popular historian is known in French as a “vulgarisateur,” so I am glad to morph from pop historian to public historian.

If skill is nothing without opportunity, or vice versa, then Karina Bolasco deserves half the credit for making Ambeth Ocampo the branded history it is today. My Anvil books continue to roll out under Xandra Ramos, 33 years hence, and there is a lot more to come.


Erratum: In my last column, the author of “Ako ay may Kiki” should be Glenda C. Oris, not Genaro R. Gojo Cruz, author of “Ako ay may Titi.”


Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of Cebudailynews. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

TAGS: books
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our regional newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.