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Marivi Soliven is a writer and a Hedgebrook alumna. We asked her about her work and about being a Woman Authoring Change.


Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

I started out writing copy for print ads and TV commercials then moved on to narrative poetry for children, chapter books for middle readers, flash fiction, short fiction, personal essays and feature article writing, so yes, I have written in multiple genres. Right now, though, I’m working just on the novel. This second one is even harder to write than the first!


Do you consider yourself an activist?

That notion of Women Authoring Change is something I’ve taken to heart—that Hedgebrook bracelet is on my wrist as a daily reminder. However, while I care deeply about issues such as public libraries, education and domestic violence prevention and support services, I don’t necessarily set out to advocate for them when I start out to write a story.

The Mango Bride began as this telenovela-ish novel about a family, their servants and their secrets. I’d never written in the long form before and really just wanted to face my fear of the novel. And then as the novel developed, I realized that certain plot points—immigration, racism, domestic violence—happened to be issues folks were discussing in 2008 and continue to discuss to this day.

It was a serendipitous coincidence that turned my potboiler family drama into a story with a social message.


Would you characterize your writing as activist? Why or why not?

If you define activist writing as writing with a pre-determined agenda or prescribed message, then no. My first impulse is to tell a good story, one that rings true to a particular situation or condition. In the case of The Mango Bride, I was compelled to insert the domestic violence (DV) angle because so many DV calls kept coming up in my day job as a phone interpreter. The frequency of these calls intensified as the economy tanked in 2008.

A social worker finally explained to me that when the economy sinks, domestic violence soars. Men come home disgruntled from being furloughed or laid off. Then they take their frustrations out on the nearest target – the wife and kids. Eventually I came to see that these women’s voices needed to be included in the intensifying conversation on immigration. So I wrote them into the novel.

I didn’t originally plan to launch a crusade to help immigrant survivors of domestic violence. But after several readers wrote to say they had suffered the same abuse as Beverly had in the novel, I took that as a sign that more needed to be done. After searching for a nonprofit that helped immigrant DV survivors, I found Access, Inc., a community organization that offers low cost legal aid to such women. With the help of Susan Macbeth of Adventures by the Book, we put together the first Saving Beverly Fundraiser last October at the Joan Kroc Center for Peace and Justice.

Here’s the fundraising video that the Access’s Legal Director Anne Bautista produced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6hXQZMq7pg

I got former US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas to deliver the keynote speech. Then I solicited everyone – my literary agents, yoga instructor, even my daughter’s violin teacher to donate prizes for the opportunity draw. The stress of planning that event caused me to contract shingles four days before the event. But we raised nearly $10,000 that night, enough to gain legal residency for nine immigrant survivors of domestic violence.

A friend from San Francisco actually drove nine hours to attend our San Diego fundraiser. Michael was so impressed that he decided to replicate the event in the Bay Area. The second Saving Beverly fundraiser took place at the Philippine Center in San Francisco last June 5 for the benefit of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach and Immigration Center for Women and Children. Ambassador Thomas, bless his heart, came again to give the keynote speech.

I’m happy to go anywhere that wants or needs another Saving Beverly fundraiser, as long as folks are willing to organize it.


What impact do you hope your writing will have in the world?

At the very least I hope my stories can provide a more nuanced perspective on Filipinos. For too long we’ve been stereotyped as nannies or dogeaters or mail order brides. Or we’re lumped in with all the other Asians, which is kind of sad, because when you think about it, in terms of language, culture and colonial history we probably have more in common with Mexicans than we do with Japanese or South Asians.

Filipinos are so good at assimilating into mainstream culture that—apart from Manny Pacquiao—we are practically invisible. The first thing many Americans say when they meet a Filipino is “I love adobo and lumpia!” Because those dishes are the only cultural signifiers they recognize.

I’d like to think we are more than the sum of spring rolls.

But seriously, I think providing an accessible story that deals with issues relevant to our times creates new conversations or alters the direction of existing ones. The Mango Bride is now on the syllabus of the Women and Immigration Law class taught at California Western School of Law in San Diego. Ambassador Thomas has put the novel on the recommended reading list for all American diplomats assigned to the Philippines. Maybe one day The Mango Bride will be the literary alternative to lumpia.


What’s the best feedback you’ve received from a reader/audience member?

That they were sad when they reached the end of The Mango Bride, because they wanted to stay in the dream.


What’s next for you?

National Book Store, my publisher in the Philippines, has scheduled the release date for the Tagalog edition of The Mango Bride for August, and they are flying me back to launch the book at the Philippine Literary Arts Festival in Manila (August 28-30).  This edition is wonderful because the translation was done by the leader and founder of the first and only LGBT political party in the Philippines, Professor Danton Remoto – who also teaches literature at the University.  Here’s a photo of the book cover:


I was also recently interviewed by NPR’s Maureen Cavanaugh on Midday edition (Wednesday, July 22) in the segment, “How San Diego Authors Respond To Changing World Of Book Publishing.”


About Marivi Soliven:

Marivi Soliven has taught writing workshops at the University of the Philippines and the University of California at San Diego. Stories from her 17 books have appeared in anthologies in Manila and the United States. After gaining awards for two children’s books in 1991 and 1992, she won Grand Prize for the Novel in 2011, all three prizes conferred by the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Philippine counterpart of the Pulitzer Prize. That novel, The Mango Bride was published by Penguin Books in the April, 2013. The San Diego Book Awards later named The Mango Bride Best Contemporary Fiction of 2013. The novel’s Spanish edition, Hace Una Eternidad en Manila (Grupo Planeta, 2014) was released in October, 2014. The Filipino edition will be published in 2015.



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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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