Danton Remoto is a novelist whose book Riverrun (published by Penguin Random House) has been chosen by bookriot.com as one of the “five most highly anticipated books by an Asian author in 2020.” Danton Remoto has taught for more than thirty years at universities in the United States, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Educated at Ateneo de Manila University, Rutgers University (USA), University of Stirling (UK) and the University of the Philippines, he has been a scholar of the Ford Foundation-Asian Scholarship Foundation, the British Council, and the Fulbright Foundation.
Rejection and alienation are major themes in Riverrun, as Danilo is often ostracized by his peers and family growing up. What made you want to explore these themes?
I grew up in 1970s to 1980s Philippines, which is a largely conservative and Catholic country. I just mirrored the situation of LGBTQIs during that time: you could be seen but never heard. This led to alienation amongst many LGBTQIs of the period, before the movement began to take off in the 1990s. So in a way, fiction was a prism not just to passively reflect but also to refract those experiences.
How did you approach writing Riverrun, and what was the publication process like?
I wrote the first complete draft of “Riverrun” in 1993 at the Hawthornden Castle in Scotland, where I was an International Writing Fellow for one month. I had several linked stories, I wrote chapters that filled in the gaps, and just wroe straight through, for six hours a day, on my yellow pad paper. I also read Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel, where he said the postmodern novel need not have one grand narrative arc. It can have seemingly disjointed chapters that are linked by one theme, or related motifs. In short, there isn’t one big narrative arc but several narrative arcs, like waves.
It was finally published in 2015 in the Philippines but the circulation was limited. When the Philippine edition finally sold out, I rewrote the novel, lengthened it and added the chapters on the UK. I submitted it to Penguin Random House SE Asia. It was quickly accepted. It was supposed to be launched in April 2022, but then Covid-19 happened. It was finally published in August and launched at the Manila International Book Fair. My scheduled book launches and events in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the UK did not push through. But in spite of these, I am happy to report that the novel seems to be selling well and has generated good reviews.
As the founder and leader of Ladlad, how do you think LGBTQ+ representation has improved and what do you hope to see in the future?
It has improved, but we need an Anti-Discrimination Law in the Philippines to protect us. So Ladlad is running as a political party again, but we are fielding younger candidates who are social-media savvy. The 2022 elections will have an online campaign, so I am fielding the best and the brightest LGBTQI candidates in the Philippines.