Penman No. 75: A Writers’ Auction, and Shakespeare in Asia

DalisayBrillantesPenman for Monday, December 2, 2013

THIS IS going to be a very busy and exciting week on the literary front at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. First off, the UP Institute of Creative Writing will be hosting Writers’ Night on Friday, December 6, sustaining what’s become a longstanding annual tradition. Meanwhile, on Thursday and Friday, the Department of English and Comparative Literature will also be hosting its first international conference on “Shakespeare in Asia,” bringing together leading Shakespeare scholars from around the region and the US to affirm the Bard’s continuing relevance to global literature and society.

(It should also be mentioned that Philippine PEN will be holding its annual Congress December 3-4 at the Henry Sy Sr. Hall of De La Salle University, with the theme of “Literature of Concord and Solidarity: The Writer as Peacemaker,” and that FILCOLS—the Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society, Inc., which manages copyright payments for Filipino authors—will be holding its annual general meeting at the Claro M. Recto Hall in UP Diliman at 4 pm, December 6, just before Writers’ Night proper.)

Writers’ Night will consist of three segments, after the FILCOLS meeting: the awarding of the annual Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award, which this year will go to a Filipino author writing in English, and the launch of the 7th annual edition of Likhaan: the Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature, which the UPICW publishes. Capping the evening will be a live auction of writers’ memorabilia, featuring donations by writers—including three National Artists—for the benefit of other writers left in dire need by recent disasters in the Visayas. We’ve received word that while no one we knew died in the wake of supertyphoon Yolanda, some writer-friends were badly savaged by the storm; while lives are of course the first priority, the loss to a writer of his or her home, and books and manuscripts among one’s few belongings, can also be deeply traumatic. We hope to be able to address some of these needs through the auction.

Writers’ Night actually debuted with an auction in 1996—I can’t believe it was 17 years ago!—and it was a blast. I came away with several handwritten manuscripts donated by Greg Brillantes and Cirilo Bautista, as well as a novel (Villa Magdalena) signed by Bienvenido Santos. Gina Apostol went home with NVM Gonzalez’s chair.

This year, to spice things up, we’ve solicited donations from National Artists Virgilio Almario (a signed copy of his very first book), Bien Lumbera (two CDs of his songs, also signed), and Frankie Sionil Jose (yet to be confirmed, but hopefully a book or manuscript). Poet Jimmy Abad has very graciously given an important group of his manuscripts, including the handwritten draft of the early poem “Fugitive Emphasis,” and more than a dozen copies of various issues the trailblazing and now rare Caracoa poetry journal from the 1980s. Alma Miclat is donating a copy of the hardbound edition of her late daughter Maningning’s book Voice from the Underworld, signed with her Chinese chop.

And to acknowledge how kind the Fates have been to me this year as they have been harsh to others, I will be donating a fully-functional, like-new Parker Vacumatic fountain pen from the early 1940s, in golden-pearl finish with a smooth, fine 14K nib, a pen I’ve actually written with and written about in my story “Penmanship”; although it’s about 70 years old, the pen is ready to write, and will carry a lifetime personal service warranty from me (if it ever breaks down, I’ll fix it for free). I will also be donating the signed original 11-page typescript of my 1986 short story “The Body,” with my edits on it, and re-donating one of the three Brillantes manuscripts I got in 1996, the signed, edited 6-page typescript of the essay “A Dream of a Red, Green, and Blue Country,” chronicling a visit to Nicaragua. (I’m sure Greg won’t mind; he’s one of the most generous people I’ve known, and I wish he could join us on Friday; come to think of it, if he hadn’t donated these papers to us in 1996, they might’ve joined the soggy mess that Ondoy made of his formidable library.)

Between now and Friday, we’ll expect more donations from writers (who can also donate books for the benefit book sale—it’s been a Writers Night custom to bring and toss a book into a box as a kind of admission fee). Bring your donations over to us at the UPICW in Diliman, or contact our admin officer Ronnie Amuyot at 0922-811-4449 if you need yours to be picked up. We’ll try to be as liberal with the live auction as we can—we’ll take cash, checks, and promissory notes, and you can even leave your bids with or text them to Ronnie before the auction if you’re away. We’ll display some of the choicest items at the Faculty Center before Writers Night itself.

Writers’ Night is free and open to all Filipino writers, writing and literature students, and their friends. Do come and join us at CM Recto Hall, UP Diliman, from 6 pm up this Friday; there’ll be food and drinks, and a lot of goodwill to go around.

JUDY CELINE Ick was an 18-year-old sophomore sporting a punk hairdo when we first met in Prof. Sylvia Ventura’s Shakespeare class in the early 1980s (a returning student, I was a decade older), and sharp as she was, you wouldn’t have known then that she would go on to become UP’s and one of Asia’s top experts on Shakespeare, completing a doctoral dissertation on him at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on a Fulbright grant. I was finishing my own PhD in Wisconsin when she came over, and Judy and I would trade notes, sharing a passion for English Renaissance drama (the over-the-top theatrics of which would put your typical Viva/Regal movie to shame); but while I was just enjoying the verbiage and the swordplay, Judy’s focus on Shakespeare was deep and intense.

That focus has logically led to Dr. Ick convening the first international conference sponsored by the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature on  “Shakespeare in Asia” this Thursday and Friday, Dec. 5-6, also at the Faculty Center.

Like the old days, Judy wrote me a long note to root for her guy: “I’d really like to see our fellow academics and literary aficionados get a taste of what is a burgeoning field on the global Shakespeare scene. Asian Shakespeare is hot!—the subject of many critical collections, journal special editions, conference panels, and now even a tenure-track specialization in some of the more prestigious universities in the world.

“And why not? Around Asia Shakespeare has been produced and reproduced in the most exciting ways. Many regional theater companies continuously stage highly-imaginative versions of Shakespeare in local theater forms like Beijing Opera, Noh, Kathakali, Kabuki, wayang kulit, etc. The Japanese have elevated the Shakespearean anime and manga into an art form. (But then, of course, they also have Shakespearean manga porn (!)—itself a distinct métier.) Bollywood has produced critically acclaimed versions of Macbeth and Othello among other Shakespearean films. Even that award-winning Chinese martial arts film, The Banquet (starring your favorite Zhang Ziyi) is an adaptation of Hamlet. [Penman’s note—I’m more of a Michelle Yeoh fellow.]

“Sadly, many Filipinos are unaware of just how exciting Asian Shakespeare is. Our ability to read Shakespeare in the original, unlike many of our Asian neighbors, has proven both a blessing and a curse. While we are able to revel in the joys of the Bard’s very words, our imagination of his work has been very limited by that Englishness. Exposure to the vibrant work of our neighbors in Asia can change all that.

“A few months back, I had the surreal privilege of spending a day in Taipei with Stephen Greenblatt. We were the only two foreign guests at the inauguration of the Taiwan Shakespeare Association. He was there because, well, he was Stephen Greenblatt—eminent Shakespeare scholar, general editor of the Norton anthologies, longtime chairperson of Harvard’s English department, and author of some of the most influential literary criticism of the twentieth century. At some point, we got to talking about Asian Shakespeare and I was very inspired by what he had to say. ‘The Anglo-American hegemony,’ he asserted, ‘has just about played itself out and Asia is really where everything is now turning. Even Shakespeare.’

“I don’t think you’ll hear a clearer voice for the ‘Anglo-American hegemony’ in our profession than Stephen Greenblatt yet even he recognizes the coming primacy of Asian Shakespeare. I don’t think we Filipinos should get left behind because we have much to contribute. The conference is an important first step as it offers a far-reaching introduction to the field. We’ll have the top Shakespeareans from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the US and India talking about how they play out ‘Asian Shakespeare.’ We’ll also feature films and filmed performances from India, Japan and China. Of course, Filipino artists who have boldly adapted Shakespeare will join in dialogue. The whole affair is capped off with an exciting new theater piece called ‘Have Thy Will,’ a staging of the sonnets devised and directed by Ron Capinding featuring some stellar performers—Ricky Abad, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Dolly De Leon, and Teroy Guzman. More info is available at the conference website: http://conference.up.edu.ph/shakespeareinasia2013/.”

Thanks, Judy—and this, Yolanda, is our response to you: a mightier torrent of words, a stronger companionship among writers. To quote one of my favorite Shakespeare sonnets (55), “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme.”

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