Penman No. 46: Writers in Progress in Dumaguete, Iligan—and Umbertide

Silliman2013

Penman for Monday, May 13, 2013

IT’S BEEN a very busy traveling month for me, and it’ll get even busier these next few weeks, with paneling duties in two of our country’s premier writers’ workshops—in Dumaguete from May 12 to 17, and Iligan from May 20 to 24. The UP National Writers Workshop usually begins right after Holy Week, with Dumaguete and Iligan following in May. The University of St. La Salle in Bacolod, the Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Sto. Tomas also hold their writers’ workshops sometime over the summer.

This means that Filipino writers both young and old don’t get much of a vacation from the writing life, which is probably as things should be, as those who profess to writing as a lifetime profession should consider themselves pledged to a kind of priesthood bound by certain vows—among them, to be able to think and to function as writers under any circumstance, and to see everything, including whatever tragedies may befall one’s life, as material for the imagination to convert and elevate to meaning. I remember having a good chat about this with my workshop students in Hong Kong last month—that, even when sitting idly at the airport waiting for a flight, a writer should be able to look around the pre-departure area and construct stories about that old man with a cough and that boy with a yellow Tonka truck and that flight attendant rubbing the back of one leg with the other, unshod foot.

But it isn’t as if a writers’ workshop means a week of drudgery and hard labor—there’ll be much mental labor, for sure, but it’ll be the labor of birthing, of seeing a project through to its best possible completion, with joy and delight attending the pain and anxiety. Of course there’ll be a few stillbirths as well, a logical and ultimately merciful form of natural selection; apprentice writers who just can’t make the cut should be told early on that they might make better lawyers or engineers, and perhaps they will. We discuss works in progress at the workshops, but the real subjects, in a sense, are the writers themselves—the writers in progress—and their talents, problems, and prospects. As I’ve noted before, a writers’ workshop is half boot camp and half support group, and it could feel one or the other on different days.

I’ll be on the panel this year in both Dumaguete and Iligan, with barely a day separating the two workshops for me, and it’ll be grueling, but I’m looking forward to engaging with our best young writers, especially those from outside of UP and outside of Metro Manila. This is the service that region-based (but no less national) workshops like Dumaguete (which is run by Silliman University) and Iligan (run by the Iligan Institute of Technology of Mindanao State University) perform for the larger literary community: they locate and develop the best entry-level writers, particularly from the outlying area or region, even as they both accept entries from as far away as Luzon. (The UP workshop targets generally older, mid-career writers with at least one published book.)

I’ve long been associated with Dumaguete since I myself became a fellow in 1981 (and thereafter pledged myself to a life of writing), but this will be the first time I’ll be sitting at the Iligan workshop—I’ll be delivering the keynote there as well—so let me talk a bit more about Iligan. This will be the Iligan National Writers Workshop’s 20th year, and it will be hosting five workshop alumni and 13 new fellows chosen from 65 applicants. The inclusion of the five alumni is a special feature for this anniversary, and is a sign of the workshop itself maturing through time under the guidance of MSU-IIT’s leading literary lights, Drs. Christine Godinez-Ortega and Steven Patrick Fernandez.

This year’s writing fellows will be the following:

LUZON: Fiction (English): Ma. Vida Cruz, Ateneo de Manila University/Quezon City; Laurence F. Roxas, UP Diliman/Pasig City; Poetry: Louise Vincent B. Amante (Filipino) UP Diliman/Quezon City. VISAYAS: Fiction: Nikos H. Primavera (English), UP Visayas/Iloilo City; Poetry: Ma. Carmie Flor I. Ortego (Waray), Leyte Normal University/Calbayog City. Ortego is the 3rd Boy Abunda Writing Fellow. MINDANAO: Play: Dominique Beatrice T. La Victoria (Sebuano), Ateneo de Manila University/Cagayan de Oro City;  Fiction: Edgar R. Eslit (Sebuano), St. Michael’s College/Iligan City; Rolly Jude M. Ortega (English), Notre Dame of Marbel University/Isulan, Sultan Kudarat; Poetry: Amelia Catarata Bojo (Sebuano), Central Mindanao University/Musuan, Bukidnon; Marc Josiah Pranza (English), UP Mindanao/Surigao City; Shem S. Linohon (Higaunon), Central Mindanao University/ Valencia City. He is likewise the 5th Manuel E. Buenafe Writing Fellow; and Vera Mae F. Cabatana (English), MSU-IIT/Iligan City. Cabatana is the 5th Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen Writing Fellow.

The INWW alumni will be:

LUZON: Fiction: Susan Claire Agbayani (Filipino), Maryknoll College/Manila. VSIAYAS: Fiction:  Hope Sabanpan Yu (Sebuano), University of San Carlos/Cebu City; Norman T. Darap (Kinaray-a), University of San Agustin/Iloilo City; Poetry: Cindy A. Velasquez (Sebuano), University of San Carlos/Cebu City. MINDANAO: Poetry: Ralph Semino Galan (English), MSU-IIT/Iligan City.

This year’s panelists include Leoncio P. Deriada, John Iremil Teodoro, Merlie M. Alunan, Victorio N. Sugbo, Macario D. Tiu, Steven Patrick C. Fernandez, German V. Gervacio, Antonio R. Enriquez, Christine Godinez-Ortega (INWW Director) and the keynote speaker, yours truly.

The Iligan workshop is unique among the five national writers’ workshops in that it publishes every year’s proceedings, so last year’s output, edited by Dr. Godinez-Ortega, will be launched this month. The workshop will also feature the Jimmy Y. Balacuit Memorial Literary Awards and a Seminar on Literature, Translation & Pedagogy on May 20 for tertiary language and literature teachers organized by the Department of English of the College of Arts & Social Sciences. Teachers interested in joining the seminar should call Honeylet Dumoran of the MSU-IIT Department of English at (063) 2233806.

Civitella

ON A related note, I’m very happy to report that two Filipino writers are among this year’s Civitella Ranieri Fellows: the Canada-based novelist Miguel “Chuck” Syjuco and the poet Mark Anthony Cayanan, who’s now working on his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Chuck zoomed to rightful prominence five years ago when his novel Ilustrado won the Man Asian Literary Prize, and he’s since been at work on another novel, which is very likely what he’ll be doing on this fellowship. Mark taught at AdMU and was one of the editors of the internationally-recognized Kritika Kultura as well as the author of a poetry collection titled Narcissus (AdMU Press, 2011).

The Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, which I was privileged to enjoy two years ago, is one of the writing world’s great luxuries, a prize in itself. Fellows spend a month in a medieval castle in Umbertide in central Italy, not too far from Perugia, to work on some significant personal project; I was able to put down 30,000 words of my third novel in that time, and while it’s still a long way from completion—a novel can take me five to ten years to finish—it wouldn’t have found that surge without some help from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, which runs the Italian program from New York. Civitella attracts more than writers—musicians, painters, and performance artists make up the rest of each batch of 12 to 14 fellows from all over the world. You don’t apply for a Civitella fellowship, at least not directly; you get nominated anonymously by some authority in your field, and then you propose a project that a jury will review and approve.

Many of my fellow fellows at Umbertide were as old as or even older than I was, in their fifties and sixties, and it’s wonderful that Chuck and Mark are receiving this honor in the prime of their youth, with their best years and works still ahead of them. Chuck was a fellow in the 1998 Dumaguete Writers Workshop, and Mark was a fellow in the 2001 UP Writers Workshop in Baguio. Some days it may seem a very long way from Dumaguete or Baguio to Umbertide, but Chuck and Mark show that you can build that path and all the bridges you need to cross the water, word by patient word, word by luminous word.

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