1.1 Name of participant:
Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta
1.4 Awards received:
The 2000 National Book Award for Life Before X and Other Stories
The 2001 Madrigal-Gonzales Best First Book Award for Life Before X and Other Stories
First Prize, 1996 Philippine Graphic Literary Awards
First Prize, 1986 Philippine Graphic Literary Awards
First Prize, 1999 Palanca Graphic Literature (English Short Story)
Second Prize, 1995 Philippine Graphic Literary Awards
Second Prize, 2001 Palanca Awards for Literature (English Short Story)
Third Prize, 1996 Palanca Awards for Literature (English Short Story for Children)
2.1 Filipino literature is a mixture that contains as much warmth, excitement and confusion as the Filipino people themselves. While it find its very beginnings in the oral histrory of the tribal communities that populated the archipelago, it has taken gradual shape through four centuries of Spanish rule, continuous mingling with Chinese, Malay and other Asian cultures, subsequent American occupation through most of the last century, and a lingering Western presence that continues until today.
Filipino fiction, whether written in English or in any Filipino language, has been one of the most developed genres, containing within its richness and languages a clear and compelling story of our literary history, and our histroy in general. Several Filipino short stories have become important landmarks, bringing forth vital images from our past, recalling an evolving consciousness. Filipino novels have sparked and captured our sense of country wince the Spanish time.
What stories do osur stories contain? Tales of the suprnatural, myths of origins and flights of fantasy that Filipinos have always feared and enjoyed, like the tale of the Aswang, the blood-sucking lycanthrope the terrorizes our nights, or the mystical origin of Tamarind Lake. Struggles against injustice, poverty and repression that we have always painfully chronicles, like Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere, or Lualhati Bautista's Dekada '70. The multiple flights of hope, dreams and freedom that we have always treasured, like NVM Gonzales' The Bread of Salt, or Charlson Ong's An Embarrassment of Riches. And more. And More.
The Filipino story is nurtured by centuries of stories, myths and mysteries. It has found its wandering way through foreign thoughts and tongues, fought against powers foreign and Filipino. Our fiction today is a rich, lamost overpowering presence, ripe, roaring, and ready to tell.
2.2 While the Philippines enjoys a functional literacy rate of more than 80%, the development of literature is often seen to be insufficient. We produce hundreds of titles a year, in the areas of literary, academic and popular publications. And we publish several national and local periodical publications, including broadsheet newspapers, tabloids, lifestyle and gossip magazines, and specialty business and industry publications. But many have observed that we are slow in developing a truly literary reading public. Literary works of great historical and philosophical import are produced in precious few copies.
Far from being an important piece of work, my book, for example, was published in an "initial" volume of 1,000 copies. That means the industry - if we must call it that - has estimated that only a thousand people will ever be interested in purchasing the work. And the includes my mother, my girlfriends and all my students in class, whom I have required, under pain of failure, to buy my book. That last bit was a joke, of course, but what is certainly not funny is the idea that with this kind of volume, writers cannot hope to make money out of their books. Much less the publishers, for many of whom publishing literary work has become somewhat a noble, heroic, even charitable, act.
The main fear is that the thinning number of readers is slowly and surely resulting in a diminishing number of writers - who may end up writing progressively thinning volumes. Already, local magazines that publish literary work on a weekly or monthly basis have trimmed out their literary sections, yielding to the pressures of profit and commercial viability.
But while the fear is real, the condition is not irreversible. In Manila, book publishers have won the praise - and sometimes, disbelief - of the rading public by stepping up their production in terms of literary titles and production quality. Already our books for children have earned international recognition and distribution for the quality of the stories and illustrations. In Manila, the expansion of local and international bookstore chains also carries along with it an expanding literary consciousness. Sure, books written by Filipinos still find themselves under a a specially-marked "Filipiniana" section, but with sheer tenacity and persistence, along with constantly-improving production quality, the Filipino book will wvwntually find its way into more shopping baskets, squeezed between the jokebooks and romance novels that Filipinos already love to read.
With the continued emergence of the Internet as a legitimate literary medium, those with a literary appetite have found an efficient, convenient and less costly way to connect with other people, other words and other ideas. Along with exhilarating acceleration of Internet access and usage in our country, literary avenues in the World Wide Web by and for Filipinos need only be formally developed to gain acceptance and popularity.
There are several Writers' Workshops in our country, many of them held on a national level, designed to develop young literary talent and create a truly literary consciousness among our youth. With the emergence of workshops that not only deal with specific genres, but with different languages (of which there are several in our country), the development of literature has been a continuous process that does extremely well in motivating young literary talent, and honing their craft. In these workshops, older writers teach young ones, and in the heated environment of the literary workshop, there is the mystical, moving image of the wise, well-known artist willingly imparting ideas, techniques, and words of encouragement to the young, energetic apprentice. The Workshop, indeed, is regarded by many as a literary rite of passage.
Award-giving bodies also function well in giving importance and encouragement early on in one's literary career. The Palanca Memorial Award, established more than half a century ago, has grown from being an award for literary excellence in just one category, the short story, to spanning other genres, other languages. Today it continues to be the most prestigious privately given recognition, gathering poets, fictionists, playwrights, screenwriters, essayists, writing in English, Tagalog, Cebuano, Iloko and Hilgaynon-and giving them the recognition they need. It is a recognition the country also needs, for its own healthy literary development.
For published works, the National Book Award has long played an important role in keeping the hight standard of quality of literary content, book design and, in the longer view, of our country's published literary output.
Of these developmental programs, the government has played a supportive role in many of them. National government bodies regularly offer grants and provide key financial and logistical support for the literary arts. Not only are the National Writers' Workshops part of the government's ken, but also major awards, such as the Centennial Literary Awards, as well as recognition for a lifetime of artistic work, such as the National Artist Award and the region-wide Raman Magsaysay Awards.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the government's openness lies in the literary roots of our nation. The Filipino writer share an affinity with Jose Rizal, 19th. century doctor, artist, poet, novelist-and national hero. For him, his writing was the defining heroic moment: Rizal's satirical novels helped raised important questions for the Filipino and helped catalyze the Filipino revolutionary consciousness during Spanish colonial times. It can this be seen that literature provided the driving force for our nationhood. Today, updated, informed by world experiences and continuing local issues such as poverty, political uncertainty and a new, global consciousness, it continues to play an important role in shaping our nation's history-and in provoking revolutions.
Filipino writers are also active on the international fronst. While many of our homegrown writers have established names for themselves worldwide, publishing their works, garnering international awards and proving themselves literary equals to their Eastern and Western counterparts, there are many more who are on their way, armed with academic grants and fuelled by that artistic hunger for experience and, yes, recognition.
It is every writer's dream for his words, stories and ideas to be read and recognized round the world, and in this dreaming Filipinos have been quite feverish. For this dream, those with literary talent will often suffer a low income and an uncertain future. Publishers go out on a limb to deliver in to the public. Precious few Filipinos will read ist. For the Filipino writed, the literary effort is a heroic effort.
© Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Malaysia. SEMUA HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA 2002
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