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Philippine fiction in English is in good hands |

Arts and Culture

Philippine fiction in English is in good hands

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star

In the industrious, remarkable hands of Filipina writers, that is — much more so, presently, than in those of other genders.

Based on the exceptional output by Filipina novelists, the future of Philippine literature in English appears to rest on the strength of feminine augury. 

As marked by a recent series of highly favorable reviews that appeared in this space, I’ve certainly been held in thrall by the following memorable novels: VJ Kampilan’s All My Lonely Islands (Anvil Publishing, 2017); Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto (Soho Press, NY, 2018), and Reine Arcache Melvin’s The Betrayed (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2018).

I have yet to acquire a copy of Elaine Castillo’s America Is Not the Heart (Viking, USA, 2018), which has been gaining favorable reviews.

In the last few years, the only other novels in English of note have been Danton Remoto’s Riverrun (Anvil, 2015) and Glenn Diaz’s The Quiet Ones (AdMU Press, 2017) — which won the last National Book Award for the Novel in English, and which I should review here soon. Cesar Ruiz Aquino of Dumaguete is stlll taking his sweet time with the anti-novel he’s been working on for years.

Meanwhile, said to be due for release on Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough, is California-based poet-editor-publisher Eileen Tabios’ The Great American Novel: Selected Visual Poetry (2001-2019), from Paloma Press. Not too sure if it’s a novel, given the subtitle, although one can expect the indefatigable author of novel forms to come up with yet another morphed mutant of a literary genre. 

The grapevine has it that two more manuscripts are either in the final stages of completion or are already with a publisher. We can look forward with much anticipation to these upcoming novels by highly distinguished writers: New York-based Ninotchka Rosca (her third) and Jessica Zafra (her first).

Other outstanding Filipina novelists based abroad should also regale us soon with follow-ups to their respective bodies of work: FC Batacan in Singapore, Merlinda Bobis and Arlene Chai in Australia, Lakambini Sitoy in Denmark, Cecilia Manguera Brainard in California, Marivi Soliven Blanco and Sabina Murray.

Incidentally, here on a home visit is Dr. Merlinda Bobis. She delivered a lecture titled “Salba Istorya / Salba Buhay: Following the Water” last Saturday at the Philiippe Jones Conference Room at DLSU, as organized by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center and the Literature Department of DLSU.

In the U.K., Candy Gourlay has been consistently doing us proud with her fine novels since her debut bestseller Tall Story (2010). Her second novel Shine (2013) was longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and won the Crystal Kite Award for the British Isles in 2014, while Bone Talk (2018) was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards. She’s likely at serious work on another novel, given her recent announcement of taking a sabbatical from social media.

Filipina fictionists have also been busy plying online venues and distribution systems. Anne Carly Abad’s first edition of her The Light Bringer’s Kingdom came out in 2015, and it’s been made available as a paperback through Amazon. Alma Anonas-Carpio’s digital copies of Maligno Unbound and How to Tame Your Tikbalang Without Even Trying are also available from Amazon. I’m not sure however if these can be classified as novels or novellas.

Kristine Ong Muslim of Maguindanao has authored nine e-books of speculative fiction, including the short fiction collections Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016) and Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), besides having her poetry accepted widely in numerous e-journals. 

We have so many other young Filipina writers who have distinguished themselves with their short fiction.

Sophia Marie Lee’s young-adult book What Things Mean won the grand prize in the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Awards. In the same year, Isa Lorenzo won the Weidenfeld & Nicolson short story competition at the University of East Anglia. Mia Alvar’s short story collection In the Country was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015.

Anna Felicia Sanchez’s How to Pacify a Distraught Infant: Stories, was released by UP Press in 2017. Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon’s story collection People in Panic was published independently in 2017. A short story by Vida Cruz, who has written an unpublished novella, won first place in the second quarter of the prestigious 2017 Writers of the Future contest. Other stories of hers have made it to Kindle editions of international speculative fiction anthologies.

After winning several Palanca awards, Kate Osias authored the short fiction collection Heroes, Villains & Other Women (AdMU Press, 2018). Sandra Nicole Roldan’s “semi-autobiographical account of what she went through as the daughter of an activist” came out as a children’s book, At the School Gate (The Bookmark Inc., 2018).

 We look forward to another novel by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, while also hoping that other distinguished short fiction authors would soon make the jump to the long form. Among these are Rosario Cruz-Lucero, Susan Lara, Katrina Tuvera, Nikki Alfar, Jenny Ortuoste, Johanna Cruz and Cyan Abad-Jugo.

Abroad, Noelle de Jesus in Singapore, Lara Stapleton in New York, and Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas in Iowa City are among our best bets to come up with novels that will help solidify our claim to be world-class writers of fiction in English.

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