After a decade of regretfully turning down invitations to come to the Philippines, renowned American author Mitch Albom finally set foot in the country on February 18. A compelling reason drove him here: he wanted to visit the survivors of the infamous Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban City, and especially donate books and school supplies to schools in the devastated communities.
“I’ve always wanted to focus on writing, not traveling,” Albom confessed to The Manila Times in a one-on-one interview.
Apparently, with every title he released, National Bookstore had invited him to come for book signing engagements, the most recent of which was in November 2013 for The First Phone Call from Heaven. By sheer coincidence, it was the same time Typhoon Yolanda hit Central Visayas.
“When I saw that happened, I said to myself, ‘I see this as a sign that this should be the time that I should go there,’” he recalled.
The journalist, writer, musician, broadcaster and all-around artist is known to be involved in many humanitarian efforts. When a devastating earthquake hit the Caribbean country of Haiti in 2010, he made his help and presence felt by the survivors.
Thus, it was but natural that Albom was drawn to the Philippines after news of the world’s worst typhoon rallied the rest of the world to help, and the reason why he only came in February—three months after the devastation—is because he know how survivors of natural calamities are soon forgotten after the last of the relief and rescue operations have been completed.
“I have an orphanage that I continue to operate in Haiti [since the earthquake],” he related. “I know what happens especially in an island where there’s devastation. I’ve seen what happens when the story kind of fades and people will say, ‘Well I took care of that problem; we sent a lot of money,’ and that’s it. But that’s not enough because the problem goes on.
“I see it in Haiti almost five years after the earthquake and they haven’t recovered yet.
“So by the time I would go [to the devastated communities], the story is beginning to fade away,” he continued. “My hope is that maybe by going there [belatedly]I can do something to revive that story.”
Albom found his trip to the Philippines more meaningful in that he was not only in the country to “sell books.” He came armed with book donations of his own titles, as well as those from other famous writers like Stephen King and Amy Tan who happen to be his friends.
He is also happy to have finally spent time to meet and sign books for his Filipino readers, humbled and grateful by the fact that next to the United States, the Philippines is his next biggest fan base.
Briefly talking about his latest title, The First Phone Call from Heaven, Albom shared with The Manila Times that his inspiration for the story came after his mother suffered a stroke.
“The inspiration came from something very sad. My mother had suffered a very serious stroke about three and a half years ago, and she lost the ability to speak. She hasn’t spoken since, and I’ve stopped hearing her voice even if she’s still alive,” he related.
“So I began to think how important a voice is to the connections that we have with people, especially in the world today when everybody texts,” he continued. “How I wish I could hear my mom again, but the question in the book is if I just heard her voice would that really be enough?”
As for his next title, Albom is working on a book about a musician—what he had wanted to become before he started writing.
He revealed that he wanted to be a musician but said, “As a musician alone, I was a failure. But I have done things in music while I was a writer and that’s when I became successful.”
He also shared his love for the piano, and revealed he also plays in a band called “Rock Bottom Remainders” together with best-selling authors King, Tan, James McBride, Robert Fulghum, and Matt Groening.
Very excited to finally write about music in his next book, he is also looking to have a CD recording to go with it. Also, his Filipino fans hope that the motivational writer can return to the Philippines with this new project—hopefully sans the need to inspire a tragedy stricken people, but a happier nation that keeps on moving on.