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Dumaguete Batch 52

Full group shot at the end of the third week of the 52nd Silliman University National Writers Workshop, with workshop director Susan Lara (fifth from left, back row) between panelists Marjorie Evasco and Cesar Ruiz Aquino, other panelists Grace Monte de Ramos (fifth from right, back row), Jimmy Abad and the author Krip Yuson (fourth and fifth from left, front row), workshop coordinator Ian Rosales Casocot (extreme right, back row), staffers, workshop alumni returnees, and the 2013 batch of 15 writing Fellows.

The 52nd Silliman University National Writers Workshop concluded last weekend in Dumaguete City with a farewell program at the President’s Dinner at University House on campus.

It gave us final-week guest panelists (Dr. Gémino H. Abad, Dr. Marjorie Evasco, Grace Monte de Ramos and this writer) an opportunity to thank the host, Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, for everything he has done to maintain, strengthen and enhance the annual tradition and summer rite of passage for young writers.

Indeed, since Dr. Ben took over the presidency and reinstituted Silliman’s patronage of the celebrated writing program in 2008, it has developed in leaps and bounds.

First, the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village in Camp Lookout, Valencia, was established, giving the workshop a permanent venue for Maytime’s three weeks of sessions conducted in a bucolic setting, as well as providing ideal lodging for the writing Fellows. 

Nestled on a verdant, picture-pretty knoll on Mt. Talinis, the Writers Village has also since hosted visiting lecturers and musical artists, apart from offering a scenic open stage for theater and other performances. With an environment that is instantly acknowledged by first-timers as cool in more ways than one, alcoholic intake among the writing Fellows during nocturnal bonding has presumably also gained responsibly high incidence.

The three-week workshop program has been so steadily streamlined over the past few years that I can say with authority that this month’s edition has been the best and most fulfilling in all the decades that have seen my participation as a literary panelist.

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Our esteemed confrere and fellow STAR columnist Butch Dalisay has already detailed the workshop workings, with all of its new features that impressed him during the second week, when he served in the panel together with poet and former UP-Mindanao Chancellor Ricardo M. de Ungria, Hong Kong-based Scottish poet David McKirdy, and DLSU professor Jose Victor Z. Torres.

The first week saw AdMU professor and poet Danny Reyes, novelist, playwright and editor Dean Francis Alfar, Dumaguete poet Myrna Peña-Reyes, New York Writers Workshop co-founder Tim Tomlinson, and author and UST Publishing House director John Jack Wigley as the panelists.

As a special treat, lectures were delivered by visiting international panelists Tomlinson and McKirdy, while “Magic & Heart: A Talk with Dean Francis Alfar,” was conducted also at SU’s Audio-Visual Theater, with the indefatigable workshop coordinator Ian Rosales Casocot as moderator.

Another fresh and most welcome feature were the “mentoring sessions” conducted each week, where the Fellows sign up for individual consultations over submitted draft manuscripts with the panelists of their choice.

The traditional midweek outing, where Wednesday’s sessions are held away from the regular venue, are yet another treat for the pampered writing Fellows. This year, it was at the Twin Lakes (upland Lake Balinsasayao being the major one, and now perfectly outfitted to receive visitors) for the first week, Antulang Beach Resort for the second (replete with a trimaran cruise to Tambobo Bay), and at Bais Bay for a dolphin-spotting excursion on the final week.

It was enough for past Fellows to see the activities unfold right from the welcome ceremony, by way of photo albums posted in the workshop’s Facebook page, for them to protest over all the privileges that this summer’s batch received, beginning with giveaway bags full of goodies from sponsors such as Globe Telecom, the Negros Oriental Handumanan Handicrafts Shop, Cherry Mobile, Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries, Chantilly Cake House, et al.

Special dinners cum poetry reading sessions were hosted by sponsors Mr. and Mrs. Felipe Antonio Rimollo and Simon and Virginia Stack, with other readings held at The Bean Connection (where Dr. Cesar Ruiz Aquino’s new poetry book from UST Publishing House, Caesurae: 150 New Poems, was also launched; Silliman Hall for performance poetry featuring Razceljan Salvarita; and at Café Antonio with “Huni ug Balak: A Celebration of Music and Poetry Reading,” featuring the multi-talented poet, composer and singer Earnest Hope Tinambacan a.k.a. Hopia with his six-man band. (Thank you to our host for that last evening, Mr. Rochris Piñero.)

The 15 writing Fellows were: Corina Marie Arenas, Nuyul Asyukin, Jennifer dela Rosa Balboa, N. Adrian de Pedro, Tracey dela Cruz, Sophia Marie Lee, Christine Leow, Isa Lorenzo, Arnie Q. Mejia, Mario Mendez, Rhea Politado, Trish Shishikura, Brylle Tabora, Patricia Verzo, and Lyde Gerard Villanueva.

Asyukin and Leow are from Singapore, with their participation marking the third year of international Fellow sponsorship by our friend Dr. Kirpal Singh of Singapore Management University.

Easily, one sees the camaraderie that bonds each batch, and which starts right on the first few days of togetherness at the Writers Village. They read one another’s works, conduct their own evaluations and discussions, boost one another’s hopes in this their solid preparation for a likely career in — or vocation of — creative writing.

Last Wednesday, after we had thrilled to the sight of playful dolphins escorting our pair of pumpboats on Tañon Strait off Bais Bay, we anchored for lunch right on the popular white sandbar where swimmers can frolic on the waist-deep waters in the mornings. We feasted on succulent lechon, kinilaw, etc. right onboard.

Yet burping, the Fellows formed a circle in the warm waters and played Frisbee with a plastic plate. Their squeals of delight and hearty laughter were as gratifying to the senses as the details of narrative and blitzes of metaphor they offered in their stories, poems, creative non-fiction pieces, and play.

Yes, it was all play, and all work, too.  

As this year’s workshop director-in-residence Susan M. Lara reminisced in her lecture on “True Lies: Blurring Boundaries Between Fiction and Creative Nonfiction,” she had survived her own Fellowship in 1979.

“Not only did I survive, I came back. Again and again. I spend my summers in Dumaguete, and the rest of the year wishing I were here. And each time, every summer experience just keeps making my life richer.”

Returning workshop alumni this summer included Dr. Noel Pingoy, Joel Toledo, Alan Pastrana, Ceres Abanil, and Leslie dela Cruz. They joined us in what may have been the most poignant moments of the three weeks of literary initiation and bonding: at the Dumaguete City Memorial Park, where prayers and a musical tribute were offered at the gravesite of our beloved Dad and Mom, Edilberto and Edith Tiempo.

The day before, Susan, Marj, Grace, Jim and I had also paid a visit to the gravesite of our dear departed brother Atty. Ernesto Superal Yee, poet, pianist and lawyer. He had also helped immensely in the days when the workshop needed all the help it could get.

Now, with generous co-sponsors, namely the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the United Board of Christian Higher Education in Asia, and the Embassy of the United States of America in Manila, the 52-year-old workshop is in very good hands. Especially under the leadership of SU president Ben S. Malayang III. And with the coordination done by the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center that he established.

Thanks again, Dr. Ben. And thank you, Ian, for all the efficient coordination under the aegis of the Tiempo Writing Center. And thank you, Prof. Philip Van Peel, for the French poetry, and you too, Moses “Mong” Atega, for the infectious ebullience, as well as to all the university officials and workshop staffers that made possible yet another memorable experience in Dumaguete — which certainly made all our lives richer.

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