The need for harmony among writers
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - October 15, 2018 - 12:00am

Thank you to the Palanca Foundation for the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi given me on the 68th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature ceremony held on October 5 at the Rigodon Ballroom of Manila Peninsula hotel. My speech as Guest of Honor started with my recollection of having first joined the “Palanca family” all of 50 years ago. Following is the second half of that address.

Yes, we should all continue to celebrate the value of such an institution as the Palanca Awards. The Palancas don’t really have to keep doing this, but they do, they continue as they have for nearly seven decades now.

Writers need confirmation, especially from their peers. And this can be done in harmony with one another.

Of late, we’ve all become aware that the entire planet has entered a disturbing period of disunity and contentiousness that doesn’t bode well for anyone.

We writers have a role to play, as everyone does, to help everyone reach some quota for harmony. I know that I may sound like a beauty contestant standing here appealing for world peace and harmony. But those are exactly what are needed now.

When we produce poems, stories, essays, memoirs, screenplays, drama — think about it: every reader we somehow keep captive with our works becomes one less miscreant on the streets — at least during the act of enjoyment of the pages held in their hands. We may not keep one of those hands away from a nearby cookie jar, but that’s as far as our readers can get away with in terms of additional indulgence.

As a community of writers, we should also be kind to one another. For the most part, in my experience, this has been so. In fact, it has been the experience appreciated by most writers of my generation, and those that directly followed us. We have gained from the mentorship, friendship and care of older writers.

We didn’t set out to scorn those who preceded us, rather found strength in what they left behind. We honored their legacy by continuing the benign tradition of building upon their accomplishments.

But I realize that as part of the climate of divisiveness that unfortunately characterizes the current hour, there have also come about fringe individuals and associations whose sorry claim to literature appears to be founded on having to sport a chip on one’s shoulder — while directing malice towards all sorts of bogeys, such as a so-called Manila Mafia that dictates entry into the supposed mainstream or for canonical inclusion, or alleged padrinos that help advance the careers of younger writers.

Entry into whatever imagined canon is actually facilitated by the increasing acceptance of one’s literary labors, by way of gaining distinctions or managing to author popular titles, as well as the selection process exercised by members of the academe who recommend the list of local reading materials for their students.

The false scenario of becoming a Palanca winner through a judging circle’s favors is painted with awfully wrong colors. So much more often than not, a literary judge remains unaware of manuscript authorship until the choices have been made, upon careful, impartial deliberation.

Literary cliques are fine. Camaraderie goes on. The next generation of writers will also gravitate towards one another, not on the fuel of backslapping or the quid pro quo, but because they like another and appreciate each other’s works — at least enough to discuss them dispassionately, or passionately. Both modes are okay.   

Yes, there’s much value in participation in literary workshops. Again, it’s not a matter of getting into the good graces of mentors who are potential padrinos, but more of joining up with a circle of other like-minded, serious practitioners of the craft. Again, the camaraderie and harmony will do you good. 

There should be no dilemma over the Filipino writer’s choice of language. We should consider ourselves blessed with the plethora of choices. Write in the language you are most comfortable with. And you will be as good as that language — whether the choice has been dictated by circumstances of time and place of birth, education, and environment. 

As writers, we can be individualistic in responding to the challenges of our imagination and vision, but in the long run, whatever we say, whatever we write, whatever we express signifies a connectedness with the community of readers we reach out to.

Indeed, no poet is an island. All craftsmen of the word are part of an archipelago of shared dreams, and of continents where the borders between diverse cultural backgrounds represent the divides we must help bridge, to best commit to a symphony of destinies — with or without the benefit of translation, or even while getting lost in the traitorous exchanges.

When we join the woke, we realize the ephemerality of initial betrayals. And perhaps when beings of other worlds come to introduce the novelty of other languages, we can welcome them with the strength of our unity, and come to discover together, that the story of harmony wherever it is written always starts with the whimsy of Once upon a time, and ends with the resolute hope that we will all Live happily ever after.

It is the only way that literature begins and keeps completing the cycle. Through all mishaps and misunderstandings that often result in unnecessary acts of unkindness, even cruelty, in the end, the universal story always begins again with redemption.

So keep saving and adding to your files, young writers, whether they’re digital or in hardcopy, even scribbled on assorted sheets of paper. You’ll never know when you’ll be called upon to become the heroes of memory, and valorous continuity — best of all, in helpful harmony with everyone.

Thank you and good night.

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