WRITERS’ NIGHT 2013 went off last Dec. 6 in UP Diliman with nary a hitch, thanks to tremendous support from the Philippine writing community (and, of course, from my staff at the Institute of Creative Writing). It was a night of celebration that began early, with the Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society (FILCOLS) holding its general meeting and handing out historic (and substantial!) first checks to Filipino authors whose works had been used with permission in textbooks.
This was followed by the presentation of the 13th Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award, an annual recognition of the best first book by a Filipino author writing in English or Filipino (the award alternates between these two languages, so the award covers publications for the past two years in each language; it was English’s turn this year). This P50,000 prize—established and generously endowed by the Madrigal-Gonzalez family through Atty. Gizela Gonzalez-Montinola—has become another important rite of passage for Filipino writers, and over the years it has gone to such talents as Angelo Lacuesta, Luna Sicat Cleto, F.H. Batacan, Ellen Sicat, Vicente Groyon, Kristian Cordero, Rica Bolipata Santos, Zosimo Quibilan, Adam David, Lualhati Abreu, Lawrence Ypil, and Will P. Ortiz.
The actual awarding is preceded by a lively forum featuring the finalists, who remain unaware of the winner until the end of the ceremony. This year’s board of judges was chaired by prizewinning fictionist Charlson Ong, with poet Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta and Prof. Shirley O. Lua of De La Salle University as members. It was a banner year for the University of Sto. Tomas Publishing House, whose books accounted for five of the six finalists.
The citations that the judges prepared for the finalists were little gems in themselves, so to give you an idea of what our best new writers have been producing, let me quote from those citations:
Daryll Delgado, After the Body Displaces Water (UST Publishing House, 2012): “In After the Body Displaces Water, Daryll Delgado draws upon both romantic and realistic traditions in fiction, the personal as well as the political, to deliver an outstanding debut collection. Here are tales of the post-EDSA uprising generation who navigate through the murky mire of lost certainties, failed expectations, of promise and compromise. Here, water, cleansing, life-giving yet dangerous, is prime element. Water is memory: malleable, mesmeric. It suggests the comfort of the womb and of early death, but must finally give way to the body, to present and authentic self. These stories offer up no easy answers only uneasy angles, uncanny ways of seeing as ‘through a glass darkly.’”
Marc Gaba, Have (Tupelo Press, 2011): “’Stories are about the dropped stitch,’ writes an American fictionist. The dropped stitch interrupts the pattern and disturbs an existing order. To stretch a metaphor: when this happens, a stitch falls off your needle and unravels for several rows beneath the row you are working on. At some point in your writing career, you are going to drop a stitch. You will forsake what you know for what you don’t know. Writers less fearless would try to reach that dropped stitch, slide a crochet hook into its loop, and mend a rent in the pattern. But Gaba’s poems are about the dropped stitch—the one that makes the reader imagine a pattern because it has gone completely missing. His is the stitch that unravels the whole.”
Anna Maria L. Harper, Agueda: A Ballad of Stone and Wind (UST Publishing House, 2012): “Rare is the Philippine historical novel, rarer still one with a woman main character. Agueda may be an attempt at national allegory, but its richness of detail make it a quite engaging read. Though treading familiar ground, the book visits nooks and crannies of our past usually ignored by historical texts. We catch glimpses of our forebears—rich and poor—heretofore unseen and gain further insight into who and why we are. Who knows, in time, its heroine may become as familiar to readers as the likes of Maria Clara and Salome?”
Neal Imperial, Silver Fish, Hook of Moon (UST Publishing House, 2012): This collection affirms the power of language in all its majestic simplicity and frugality, as if self-denial is a form of art. The seeming effortlessness of the poems’ cadence complements the stream of images and metaphoric turns which seek to stir the mind of the listener, such verses as ‘We hear the silence / of dead birds / combing the wind / for wings / stuffed / in the belly of a gun,’ ‘To love an older woman / is to bleed / on a bed of salt,’ or ‘You are too-much-food / too late…” This engaging work claws at our heart, like ‘the hook of moon.’”
Allan Pastrana, Body Haul (UST Publishing House, 2011): “Called at turns difficult and lyrical, Pastrana’s poetry is deeply personal (and to the casual reader, hard to inhabit). His poems pose a difficult conundrum, for despite their apparent inaccessibility, an internal music moves them. Pastrana must be credited with such precise notation. Each of his themes seem set to an appropriate time signature—nostalgia, desire, childhood, domesticity—each one is given a clipped and particular music. It is music first that draws the reader into the writer’s milieu, uncertain of what he might find there, or if he will find anything at all…. First and last is his music. First and last is music of such virtuosity that Pastrana must be one of our finest poets.”
John Jack Wigley, Falling Into the Manhole: A Memoir (UST Publishing House, 2012): “This selection of essays shows the author’s deep-reflective investigation of his identity, whether as a boy growing up in the City of Angels, as a novice traversing through the muddled metropolis of our sad republic, or as a determined man embarking on a delicate quest in the land of his white forefather, a land deemed an earthly paradise by Spanish conquistadores. The personal narratives are unabashedly candid and sensitive, infused with humor and irony, and peppered with thrilling bits of pop culture. This book is both a delightful and heart-ripping read.”
The winner was Allan Pastrana, of whose work the judges had this further to say: “Like Orpheus’ lyre, Body Haul lures us with its refreshing variations of songs, stories, and tall tales. Like a prophet’s rod, it bestows spirit to birds, forces the word ‘trap’ to speak in three different languages, and illumines a path out of Eden to a re-worlding of stars and love. Pastrana’s kingdom is nonetheless that of a sophisticated intellectual, whose appreciation for music, literature, and the visual arts obtrusively yet gracefully seeps through the many fine verses in the collection.”
The evening’s highlight was an auction of writers’ memorabilia that we held for disaster relief, particularly for writers hard-hit by supertyphoon Yolanda. Beyond their craft, here were writers at their best, donating choice items and dipping liberally into their pockets to help out their fellows.
The money we raised came chiefly from a 1940s Parker Vacumatic fountain pen donated by yours truly (won by Jimmy Abad for P18,000 in spirited bidding over film director Auraeus Solito); a Smith Corona Portable Classic 12 donated by Paolo Manalo (won by a member of the Inkantada Band for P5,500); two manuscripts of works by Gregorio Brillantes and myself (won by Andrea Pasion-Flores for P4,200); and assorted manuscripts, author’s proofs (including that of Soledad’s Sister), and other memorabilia donated by Jimmy Abad and myself (won by rocker-news anchor-novelist-etc. Lourd de Veyra for P6,000). Poet Alan Popa went home with a drawing by fictionist Merlinda Bobis, donated by Chari Lucero, for P2,200. We’d also like to thank our other donors, buyers, and supporters—among them, National Artists Bien Lumbera and Rio Alma, poet Cirilo Bautista, and other writer-friends like Efren Abueg, Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio, Alma Miclat, Richard Gappi, Carlo Clemente, Dolores Mose, Francis Quina, Khavn de la Cruz, the NBDB, and the Chancellor’s Office of UP Diliman—for their generosity. We were all winners! See you all again in Writers Night 2014.