Mia P. Manansala comes to Pygmalion, portrays literature as art


Photo courtesy of @MPMtheWriter Facebook

Filipino American author Mia P. Manansala opens up about being a part of Pygmalion for the first time, her books, and being a new author during the Pygmalion event at the Urbana Free Library on Sept. 22.

By Kylie Corral, Assistant buzz Editor

Pygmalion, a community-wide culture festival, is a chance to explore local talent in Champaign-Urbana and find community. At the Urbana Free Library, Pygmalion came in the form of the author of “Arsenic and Adobo,” who read to an audience of students and community members on Sept. 22.

Mia P. Manansala, a Filipino American born and raised in Chicago, Ill., is the author of the cozy mystery “Arsenic and Adobo.” During her discussion panel, she talked about her second book, “Homicide and Halo-Halo,” as well as her third book, “Blackmail and Bibingka,” which is weeks away from release. She added that her fourth and fifth books are in process.

Manansala said this is her first year being involved in Pygmalion, adding that the Urbana Free Library reached out to her to participate.

“It was really special,” she said. “Most of the time when I see festivals, they’re usually specific lit festivals. I had this conversation with Lauren on the way here, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, usually authors are not part of things like this. Usually, the focus is on music or maybe like food or something like that.’”

She said that since festivals like Pygmalion usually focus on music and food, it was nice being able to add a literary aspect to that.

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“But Pygmalion seems like it really focuses on so many different things, so many different kinds of artists and creators,” Manasala said. “A little bit of something for, like, everyone. So being able to be part of a festival like this was really, really cool.”

During her discussion panel, Manansala talked about how her books present diversity through their main character, a Filipino American, and food from Filipino culture. She touched upon the subject of a previous, unpublished book that also had Filipino representation, elaborating on the difficulties it presented in the publishing process.

“‘Cozy, mystery books are read by middle-aged white women’ they (the sales team) told me,” Manansala said when talking about her original book.

Although that book was rejected, Manansala was inspired to write “Arsenic and Adobo,” which has gone on to win the RUSA Award and Agatha Award for Best First Novel. 

“As a very new author — my first book just came out last year —  it was a huge honor to even be asked,” she said. “When you first start out here you’re like, ‘Does anyone know who I am? Does anyone even know that my book exists?’ So being invited to an event as big as this, being able to look out in the crowd and have all these fantastic, insightful questions from people, obviously, it was really special. So thanks to everyone who put this together and let me be part of it.”

Lauren Chambers, the programming and outreach manager of the Urbana Free Library, said that this year is the fifth year partnering with Pygmalion in hosting an author-centered event. She said she gets to plan exciting events like this often, like Storytime, Free Comic Book Day, the Fairytale Ball, as well as visits out into the community to let everyone know what the library has to offer.

“I think it started when Pygmalion reached out to us and said, ‘You know, we’re doing these festivals, we’d love to make you a part of it, how might that work?’ and it’s just developed into us either bringing in an author or poet to come and speak as part of it,” Chambers said. “It’s worked really well, our foundation has been very generous, and they’ve always funded these visits so that they’re able to make them happen.”

Chambers said she enjoyed meeting the author and seeing people come out to listen and talk about books.

“It kind of creates a community and a cultural atmosphere when you come to an event like this, and that’s always really special to be able to make,” she said.

Chambers said that she looks forward to the Human Library Pygmalion event this weekend the most, adding she thinks it’s a great experience being able to go and talk to people who are sharing stories about their life in a safe space. 

“I, of course, like it (Pygmalion) because I think there can be a lot of intersectionalities,” Chambers said. “I mean, it’s all art. When it comes right down to it — literature. music, painting — it’s all a bit artistic, and it’s all about expression and creativity. So I kind of like the idea of having those together and seeing how they interact with each other.”

Cozette Merza, student in the College of LAS majoring in creative writing and brain and cognitive Science, said that this was the first reading she has ever been to in C-U.

“I’m just really excited to do it. It’s (just) like (a) new experience, but this is the thing that got me out, and I’ve always loved reading, always loved writing,” Merza said.

She added that she found out about the event on the @illinoisenglish Instagram page.

“I’m a Filipino American,” she said. “I grew up in Chicago, and then I moved out to the suburbs. This book, it resonates with me in so many different ways. It was the first I’ve ever seen and one of the first times I ever saw a Filipino (character) on the cover.”


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