National artist Arcellana, 85
- Doreen Yu () - August 2, 2002 - 12:00am
Nothing written may not be rewritten.

Francisco Arcellana wrote those lines as part of a sort of foreword – an Apology from one Idler to the Reader he called it – for a collection of 15 of his short stories, published in 1973 as Storymasters 5.

Each story he had ever written took on a life of its own; some of them, in fact, took on several lives as he rewrote them.

Arcellana was a master of words, and a master of storytelling.

His stories had plots intricate with twists and turns, but it was the way he wrote the stories, the words he used and how he strung them together, that set them apart as masterpieces.

And what masterpieces they were! The Flowers of May, which won the 1951 Palanca Literature Award, Trilogy of the Turtles, published in the UP Literary Apprentice which gained him entry into the prestigious UP Writers Club, The Mats, re-issued in 1995 as a children’s storybook, two versions of Wing of Madness, two versions as well of Divide by Two. His works defined what short story writing could and should be.

While his short stories are his most famous and certainly among his best written works, Franz was also a journalist. He was writer, columnist and/or editor of several magazines and a news service during the late 1930s up to the 1950s. Of this body of works his columns Through a Glass, Darkly stand out as particularly fine examples of good writing.

He embarked on an academic career by joining the University of the Philippines Department of English and Comparative Literature as an instructor in 1953, and retired 29 years later.

In those years he mentored and molded countless would-be writers and, I imagine, re-directed as many shouldn’t-be writers into other, more suitable careers.

I took two semesters of short story writing under Professor Franz. I thought I was in love with the written word, and, like many starry eyed English majors, I had wanted to become a poet. After a semester with Franz though, I was no longer in love with the written word; I was in awe of it, for Franz made me realize how powerful, how lethal, words could be.

He taught us never to take words lightly, to use them carefully, how a simple line like "But the great wall of China that Ben asked about is not the great wall of China of which I speak" (from Divide by Two, first version, which is among my most treasured lines from literature) can encompass the gamut of feelings and conflict in human relationships.

Franz passed away yesterday, 37 days short of his 86th birthday. I had asked him several times in the past years to write something for me to publish in STARweek.

His first reaction was to ask, "Are you sure you want that?" with that knowing twinkle in the eye. Later on he obliged by sending me thoughts he had written down on scratch paper (a brown magazine wrapper was what it was).

I keep that masterpiece still, as I keep the words and all the stories that he had so beautifully and so masterfully written in a life that needed no rewriting.
National Artist for Literature
Franz, declared National Artist for Literature in 1990, died 11:45 a.m. yesterday from complications arising from renal failure and pneumonia at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute of pneumonia and kidney failure.

Born Sept. 6, 1916 in Sta. Cruz, Manila, Arcellana belonged to the generation of writers that reshaped the Philippine short story in English. He was the last of the Veronicans, a radical group of pre-war writers that experimented with literary forms. He spent years in journalism before shifting to teaching in academe in the 1950s.

He was declared National Artist by then President Corazon Aquino along with painter Cesar Legaspi and architect Leandro Locsin.

Part of the citation for the award read: "In Arcellana’s view, the pride of fiction is ‘that it is able to render truth, that it is able to represent reality.’ And his reality is the universe of man, no matter how mundane or sublime. He believes that truth couched in fiction allays man’s fears and makes reality bearable."

In a recent documentary produced by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Arcellana told director Alfred Yuson: "Not many things that have been said about me are true, but one of those that are is that I disappeared into the classroom."

He was conferred a doctorate in humane letters honoris causa by the University of the Philippines in 1989.

Among his students during his decades of teaching at the UP were Yuson, Butch Dalisay, Erwin Castillo, Charlson Ong, Marra PL. Lanot and Mailin Paterno-Locsin.

Arcellana was the first director of the UP Creative Writing Center, and in the 60s and 70s was a regular panelist in the National Summer Writers’ Workshop in Dumaguete City run by the Tiempos.

One of the workshop regulars today, poet Cesar Ruiz Aquino, said that Arcellana "was one of my idols."

Another close friend and kumpadre was fellow National Artist Nick Joaquin.

Arcellana, the fourth of 18 children of Jose Cabaneiro Arcellana and Epifania Quino, is survived by wife Emerenciana Yuvienco children Francisco Jr., Elizabeth, Jose Esteban, Maria Epifania, STAR deskman Juan Eugenio, Emerenciana Jr., their spouses, grandchildren, great grandchildren, four sisters and a brother.

His remains lie in state at the UP Chapel in Diliman, Quezon City. Interment will be announced later.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with