Cross-border literary exchange
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2014 - 12:00am

Currently on exhibit at the Pardo de Tavera Room of the Rizal Library in Ateneo are memorabilia of Nick Joaquin. I urge young writers not only of the Ateneo to check out the interesting display. You’ll surely be entranced and inspired by this much-beloved man of letters, our best ever.

You’ll see his old typewriter on which he worked till his sad demise 10 years ago. On display too are sundry pages of publications where his early works of fiction, poetry, and journalism (as Quijano de Manila in the old Philippine Free Press magazine) appeared, as well as hand-written notes, manuscripts, and photographs.

Simply titled “Nick” — An exhibition in memory of Nick Joaquin (1917-2004), it opened on July 11 and will continue till the end of September. Time enough for everyone to visit the Special Collections Building of the old library in Ateneo’s Loyola Heights campus — if only to refresh our memory of dear Nick Joaquin, and for the very young to acquaint themselves with his extraordinary works of literature.  

A group of women and men of letters who share our lineage and roots has been on a most fruitful visit from the USA — thus billed as Fil-Am writers. Lara Stapleton, M. Evelina Galang, Sarah Gambito, Amalia Bueno, Ricco Siasoco and R.A. Villanueva have been making the rounds of campuses for readings and forums.

Over a week ago, Lara Stapleton led the readings for a Kritika Kultura literary activity also in Ateneo, this time at the new Rizal Library building — where, too, by the by, a World Poetry Movement reading for peace will gather over 40 poets this Wednesday, July 30, from 5 tp 7 p.m.

Over the weekend, they were the special guests in Silliman University for the Second Literatura Festival, eight years after the first edition—which then featured visiting writers Dean Francis Alfar, Susan S. Lara, Marjorie Evasco and DM Reyes among others.

This time it was presented by the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center and the American Studies Resource Center of the Robert and Metta Silliman Library. Dubbed as “A ?Writers’ Summit,” it showcased Filipino writers for the benefit of Silliman U. and Dumaguete students.

The Fil-Am group was joined by Fidelito Cortes and Nerissa Balce, who are themselves based in Long Island, NY, but have been in Dumaguete for the past several weeks on a literary grant. Cebu-based writer Lawrence Ypil and Dumaguete-based writers Ian Rosales Casocot, Cesar Ruiz Aquino, and Myrna Peña-Reyes also joined the S.U. activity that started last Friday, July 25, at Byblos in Oriental Hall, with a poetry reading by Sillimanian students and a concert of Ian Gue’s The Heartbreak Symphony.

On Saturday, July 26, premier poet Cortes delivered the keynote lecture, “Inspiration and the Writer’s Life”. Followed a series of Moderated Conversations, theme-titled “Reading as a Village” (a discussion on the reading groups in Dumaguete City and the passion it takes to run and attend them); “The Writing Craft” (moderated by Balce, on the influence of culture on writers’ works); and “The Young and the Restless” (on the expectations and practices of budding writers in Dumaguete, moderated by Alana Cabrera-Narciso).

Lawrence Ypil gave a talk/reading, “From the Highest Hiding Place,” followed by the last Conversation, moderated by Lady Flor Partosa: “What’s Going On?” Among other questions, it asked how Filipino and Filipino-American writers can continue to connect, with panelists Cesar Ruiz Aquino, festival director Ian Rosales Casocot, Stapleton, Cortes, and Ypil. Deputy Festival Director ?was Warlito Caturay Jr.


After Dumaguete, some of the Fil-Am writers proceeded to Siquijor and Cagayan de Oro City.

Well, an incident at an earlier reading-forum at UST on July 23, billed as “Conversation with Writers,” may have served as a further spark for the cross-border connection. 

A very senior writer who seems to pride himself in verbalizing rather brusque opinions in public has been at the center of a to-do that’s still resulting in tsk-tsks.

Stapleton posted on FB a day after: “So, yesterday, we read at the University of Santo Tomas, a university built in the 1700s, a space that was turned into a prison during WWII, where my grandfather was interned. As we read, the National Writer, a 90-year-old icon, walked in and sat down. I was honored, then a few minutes later, he announced that he was bored. M. Evelina Galang wrote an essay about it.

“’I was not offended when you interrupted. We are all family. And you, dear National Treasure, are behaving like the doddering uncle who has lost his filters. It is okay. We understand.’ Yup, our doddering uncle who has lost his filters. Love it.”

Stapleton added: “This trip is unbelievable. We are so moved to be welcomed because we worry for permission, and I think I feel this even more for being a mixed-race person. Our cousins have taken us in, and we’ve been misty-eyed with gratitude all along.”

I thought R. Zamora “Zack” Linmark handled the situation at that jampacked UST auditorium exceedingly well. Following Cortes’ reading of his recent poems, in the middle of which the senor writer was escorted to the front row past premier writer Butch Dalisay, it was M. Evelina Galang’s turn.

She rendered a terrific reading. I realized midway through it that the American gentleman sitting beside me was the lucky fellow who had just tied the knot with Evelina. I introduced myself to Mr. Chauncey Mabe and congratulated him with a handshake. Then we both listened some more to Evelina, with much appreciation.

The applause hadn’t died down as she made her way back to the table on the dais when the clumsy thunderbolt was pronounced: “Excuse me, excuse me. This is boring.” I knew the “Manong” was going to propose an alternative mode for the rest of the program, but I had already stood up to take a break out of the hall. Couldn’t help saying, not so much under my breath, “Oh, there you go again.” Thought I caught a smile in Butch D.’s eyes.

As I continued to exit, I could still hear Zack reclaim the podium mic which he used to intro everyone. In his usual charming way, he said something to the effect that everyone rlse in the hall appeared to be enjoying the readings, which were also a form of conversation.

Anyway, here’s what Lara referred to, part of Evelina’s piece in

“To the National Treasure in the Front Row (Who arrived in the middle of my poet friend’s reading and disrupted the room in his outside voice) — For Zack, Lara, Fidelto, and Amalia.  

“Thank you for taking time to be with us, Sir. We are Filipino American writers. We have come home to the islands where our ancestors still inhabit the land, the province, the war-torn city of their childhoods. We are in search of our origin stories, looking for the details of where we come from. We have heard stories from our parents and our lolas and lolas. We have been imagining the tables where they sat to eat their meals, the paths they walked to and from their schools, and the mother nation they call ‘back home.’ We have been wondering where the stories were lived. We have come home and we have been invited to this stage to share our written works.

“…What a complicated identity we have. Unlike you, a National Treasure in a nation where you are part of the dominant mainstream culture, our stories and poems in the United States are not and might never be mainstream. We write from the space of the Other. We write our stories because no one else will. No one else can. …Do we think of audience? If you mean you, sitting there thumping your nails on a desk top as my friend reads, if you mean you, then probably not. 

“Stop the program! You, who have walked in late, who talks loudly and huffs and puffs in the front row, you announce you are bored. The work we read bores you.

“Had I been a younger writer, you might have shaken me. But I am not. One of the lessons I do my best to impart on my students is to have a strong sense of self. To know your strengths and weaknesses and to believe in your own work. So no, you do not shake me. 

“’What role does your Filipino identity play in your work?’ you want to know. And if you took a moment to listen you might hear the answer in our stories and our poems. You might see we write from the position of naming our identity and occupying the space we have created, to suit not the masses, but our individual hearts. You might hear we are not here to compete with you but to honor you and the writers of this literary nation. We are here to write a story that is different than yours, but born of a long tradition that, like it or not, we are a part of.”

Evelina’s last lines have aready been given by Lara. M. Evelina Galang is the author of the novel, One Tribe (New Issues Press), the story collection, Her Wild American Self (Coffee House Press) and the editor of the anthology Screaming Monkeys (Coffee House Press). The recipient of numerous awards, she has worked as an advocate of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII since 1998. She directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami.

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