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The workshop as wordfeast

The official photo of the first-week participants, showing the 2014 Fellows at the Writers’ Village together with workshop director-in-residence Susan Lara (with hat at center, standing) and panelists Dean Alfar (also with hat, with writer-partner Nikki Alfar), Jing Hidalgo, Robin Hemley, Danny Reyes and Cesar Ruiz Aquino.

Early this Monday I would’ve checked in at Florentina Homes on Rovira Avenue in my adopted hometown that is Dumaguete City. No time for a quick breakfast, just enough to deposit my bag of a week’s shorts and tees and swimming trunks at the ground-floor Harrogate Suite that I will share with BFF Dokirok Gémino H. Abad, premier poet-writer-critic and the most affable, perpetually grinning suite-mate one can ever find — in the landscape of Philippine literature and well beyond. 

Silliman University Prof. Philip Van Peel, who has welcomed me at the airport, will continue with his erudite escort service and deposit me at the city venue for the final week of the 53rd edition of the longest-running writers’ workshop in Asia: the Silliman University National Writers Workshop held for three weeks in May since 1952.

The 15 Fellows this year for Poetry, Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction are: Jovy Almero of Ateneo de Naga University; Jose Jason L. Chancoco also of Naga City, a literature and law degree holder from Ateneo de Naga University and University of Nueva Caceres, respectively; Prescilla Dorado of University of the Philippines Mindanao; Jose Renato Evangelista of De La Salle University; Deil Jossaine Galenzoga of Silliman University; Johanna Michelle Lim, a creative consultant, art director, NGO co-founder and travel writer from Cebu City; Daniel Hao Chua Olivan Jr. who teaches literature in Ateneo de Manila University while pursuing his MA in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines-Diliman;

Rolly Jude Ortega of Sultan Kudarat and a graduate teaching fellow for creative writing at Silliman University; Camile Rivera, a Creative Writing student at UP Diliman; Jake Rivera who earned his BA Broadcast Communication, cum laude, from UP Diliman; Roberto Klemente Timonera who is currently earning his AB in Creative Writing at Silliman University; Christian Renz Torres who is currently taking his Bachelor of Science in Accountancy in Silliman University; Gracielle Deanne Tubera who graduated from the Ateneo de Davao University; Lorraine Janice Wood of Dumaguete; and Mae Young who earned her degree in Communications major in Broadcasting at UP Diliman.

Panelists for the first week, from May 5 to 9, were workshop director-in-residence Susan S. Lara, visiting American writer Robin Hemley, Jing Hidalgo, Danny Reyes, John Jack Wigley and Dean Francis Alfar.

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For the first of several related literary events besides the workshop sessions held for the first two weeks at the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village at Camp Lookout in Valencia, Dean conducted an author’s forum on the first evening at Audio-Visual Theater 1 of SU’s Multimedia Center.

The following evening, an exhibition billed as “Cities of Literature: An Exhibit on the Iowa/Dumaguete Connection,” opened at the Foyer Gallery of the Robert and Metta Silliman Library, sponsored by the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa and the American Studies Resource Center.

The director’s dinner and welcome reception followed, courtesy of former Dumaguete Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo and Tin-tin Cuisia-Remollo. 

On Wednesday, May 7, author and publishing director Jack Wigley of University of Santo Tomas spoke on “Out of the Manhole” for the author’s forum. The next morning, Robin Hemley delivered a lecture titled “The Writer Across the Table.”

Friday evening featured “Mga Bulalakaw nga Nadakpan: A Reading of the Poetry of Merlie Alunan,” at Captain Ribbers on Silliman Avenue, while Saturday’s Poetry Forum featured “Poetry and Pain: A Reading of Luisa Igloria’s Poetry on Pain” at Silliman Hall, sponsored by the EPCALM Adult Leukemia Foundation.

Oh, and the writing fellows, panelists and secretariat staff enjoyed a mid-week outing with a cruise to Bais Bay for dolphin-watching and naked lunch at the fabulous white sandbar.

For the second week from May 12 to 16, visiting poet-writer Alvin Pang of Singapore and visiting American poet-writer-editor Tim Tomlinson joined National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera and premier poets Merlie Aluna of Tacloban and Ricky de Ungria from UP Mindanao as panelists

On Tuesday, May 13, NA Bien Lumbera delivered a lecture titled “The ‘Political’ in National Literature” in the morning, while Alvin Pang presented his lecture, “No Longer Stepchildren — Memory, Community, and Imagination in Singapore’s Literature” also at the Audio-Visual Theater.

The Wednesday outing, cum regular workshop sessions, was at Forest Camp in Valencia on the foothills of Mt. Talinis, or halfway between Dumaguete and the Writers Village on Camp Lookout.

On Thursday, May 15, the exclusive workshop event was billed as “A Night at Valencia” — a superb dinner hosted by Simon and Virginia Stack at their lovely residence and garden, and which also featured music and poetry readings.

That second week culminated with Friday’s “Rock Poetry Reading and Music Jam” at El Amigo on Silliman Avenue. The event featured the music of Cole Geconcillo and Odd with Empithri, while the readers included Jason Chancoco, Camille Rivera, Kelvin John Wu, Daniel Olivan Jr., Jovy Almero, Deedle Tomlinson, Reno Evangelista, Jake Rivera, Alvin Pang, Elana Bartlett, Tim Tomlinson, and host Babbu Wenceslao, with Soli De Castro emceeing.

So now it’s the turn of the “closers”: poets Dr. Abad, Dr. Marjorie Evasco, and yours truly, joined in by Dumaguete’s poet, novelist and sage, Dr. Cesar Ruiz Aquino a.k.a. “Sawi,” plus of course dear Susan as resident director.  

Tomorrow evening, the poetry reading activity is billed as “The Word is Alive: A Celebration of Performance Poetry” —
at Rocks Café at Byblos, Oriental Hall, Silliman University. On Wednesday, the mid-week outing will be hosted by Annabelle, Edo and Suyen Adriano at my fave resort south of worship, the Antulang Beach Resort in Siaton, an hour’s drive from the city.

On Thursday, Dokirok Jimmy Abad delivers his lecture, “Language and Literature,” also at Byblos. Later that afternoon, we all troop to the Dumaguete City Memorial Park for a special event: “Prayers For and Tribute To Edilberto and Edith Tiempo” — our much-missed Dad & Mom, co-founders of this workshop of the eternal summer.

At this point we should thank workshop coordinator and do-it-all factotum Ian Rosales Casocot, together with the manuscript screeners Myrna Peña Reyes and Bobby Villasis (along with Susan and Sawi), as well as the secretariat that includes Dr. Philip Van Peel, Moses Joshua Atega, Alana Cabrera-Narciso and Hellene Piñero.

The wordfeast culminates this Friday with the president’s dinner at University House, where the man who has not only kept the workshop alive but strengthened it by leaps and bounds, SU President Dr. Ben Malayang, hosts the closing ceremony.

 By then, the young fellows of Dumaguete’s Summer Workshop of 2014 would be breaking up in more ways than one. They would have participated in a most memorable season of strengthening their craft by partaking of the spirited camaraderie with their batchmates as well as the seniors who gave of their precious time. (In one particular case, despite a personal devotion to live coverage of the NBA Playoffs.)

Two of our fellows last year have set the pace for doing us all proud, this soon.

A story by Sophia Lee, 52nd SUNWW fellow, made it to the shortlist of the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award, as announced last month at the 2014 Asian Festival of Children’s Content press conference in Singapore. Her short story “What Things Mean” joined four others by Asian writers, including another Filipino, Catherine Torres who serves in our Philippine Embassy in Singapore and who has won a Philippine STAR My Favorite Book writing award.

A Creative Writing MA student at UP Diliman, Sophia Lee is a member of the group Kwentista ng mga Tsikiting (Storytellers for Children). The draft for her shortlisted story was taken up last year, if I recall correctly, at a session held in Bais City Hall.  

A couple of weeks after we congratulated Sophia, good word came again, with the announcement that her workshop batchmate Isa Lorenzo had also reaped a fine reward for her writing.

Isa has been with the UK’s University of East Anglia’s creative writing programme. Her story “Little Italy” was declared a winner of the W&N (Weidenfeld & Nicolson publishing firm) and UEA (University of East Anglia) short story partnership that seeks to showcase the best writing from UEA students.

The announcement adds, re Isa: “Her short story ‘Little Italy’ was published in Outpouring: Typhoon Yolanda Relief Anthology. She was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Bursary to pursue her Masters in Creative Writing (Prose Fiction) at the University of East Anglia. Isa is currently writing a novel set in contemporary and World War II-era Manila.”

Again, congrats and kudos to Sophia Lee and Isa Lorenzo!

As Jack Wigley commented, “Grabe, umaani ng tagumpay ang mga anak natin. Kaliwa’t kanan. I am beaming with pride!”

We will expect the same of this summer’s writing fellows. Meanwhile, let’s live out this final week of initiation, Out with the paddle, Kaibigang Jimmy! As closers, we can’t be gentle in the City of Gentle People.

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