Monday, September 13, 2010

Budding Then, Ubod Now: A Crop of New Authors

The ultimate dream and realization of being a writer is the publication of his/her own book—a legacy to pass on from one generation to another, a vessel of one’s thoughts and emotions, an achievement of patiently tended maturity and creativity, an instrument to touch other lives, a document of the world as well as an instrument for its change, a contribution to the cultural wealth of the country. A book is all these and much more, even for a mere reader.

As a child, the great American fictionist Eudora Welty thought that a book is a thing of wonder, sprouting magically like trees. But books are written by men, her painful realization later.

There is a process to that fruition, entailing growth, patience, evergreen faith, perseverance and passion. One nurtures the dream with books, smelling their leaves aromatic with age or newness but defiant of time, marveling how words blossom into images and stir emotions, and desiring to capture and create. One attempts at composing maudlin poems and self-conscious essays. One studies the rudiments of writing, learning the necessities slowly and often painfully like life itself—finding a voice of his/her own, fermenting thoughts, wielding well the implements and devices, etc. One finds his/her way to workshops and the need for kinship of spirit. One comes out in periodicals and proves oneself worthy. Sometimes, one wins awards. Although important, they are not requisite. Then one publishes a book.

But sometimes, even though one completes the process and/or is good enough to publish a book, one is not able to. There may be economic interventions. In a developing country like the Philippines, publishing is not a lucrative endeavor. There is a dearth readership to spur publishing. And if there are publishers, creative works may not be given importance. It is harder for those writing in languages not widely used. Furthermore, still aspiring authors are seldom given a chance. Publishers bank on the proven and the popular usually. The manuscript lies inside the drawer or is stashed at the innermost cranny of the heart, waiting for the light of day and eternity. It can be a loss—both for the writer and also for the reader.

Although a product of passion, patience and pain, a book is also a product of opportunity. Even though the process of making a book seems disappointingly mundane, the aspiring writer will eventually find it magical, something akin to giving birth, the common allusion—bloody but miraculous. It is something the fourteen writers felt when their first books were launched under the Ubod New Authors Series, a project that gives selected writers who have not published a book yet the chance to have their first books published.

“It’s like giving birth to your first child,” Francisco Arias Monteseña, 44-year-old finance officer from Majayjay, Laguna, echoed the proverbial sentiment.

“It’s a dream come true!” exclaimed Leonilo Dalit Lopido, a 32-year-old employee of the Philippine Information Agency Region 8 from Eastern Samar. “I thought this is impossible.”

He further said: “About two years ago, a friend of mine (Voltaire Oyzon) once wrote a note for me on his first poetry book, An Maupay ha mga Waray ug iba pa nga mga Siday, which said ‘Huhulton ko an im libro’ (I’ll wait for your book). I just laughed at it. Now, I realized that having my first book published is gonna be fulfilling especially that I love siday (Waray poems).”

Mar Anthony Simon dela Cruz, a 28-year-old college instructor at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos who hails from Santiago City, Isabela, related: “Siyempre, talon ako nang talon sa tuwa….Akalain mo, may mga naka-appreciate sa mga kuwento ko. (Of course, I was jumping for joy….Who would have imagined someone appreciated my stories?)”

Likewise, 29-year-old Phil Harold L. Mercurio, also a college instructor from Calbayog City, was exultant: “Just like any writer who has just had a book debut, it feels like heaven. I am now convinced that I am indeed a writer and that my voice in the world of poetry does exist.”

Noel P. Tuazon, a 38-year-old college instructor from Bingag, Dauis, Bohol, tried to be wry: “Hindi ko alam; hindi ako sanay sa kaligahayan. (I don’t know; I am not used to happiness)”

Although 32-year-old freelance writer and editor Sherma Benosa, who hails from Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, thought that having a book published is a realization of a dream, she felt overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) by how soon it was achieved. She explained: “I can’t help thinking that it’s a bit too soon for me to publish a book. I had initially given myself five years to write materials from which I’d choose several to include in a possible anthology. I had envisioned myself knocking on university presses’ doors for some editors to please take a look at my works. I had expected to be turned down a few times before someone would say, ‘Okay, let me see what you have.’ But just two years into the timeline and already there was Ubod. I thought I’d lose nothing if I submitted my work so I did. Little did I expect them to be chosen. I think I was just lucky.”

Benosa thinks that she has to go through the process more, holding that romantic image of the suffering writer, and experiencing more hardships to bear sweeter fruits.

On the other hand, the much younger (at 23 years old) Christoffer Mitch C. Cerda, a part-time lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University and a son of San Pablo City, Laguna, was a tad impatient for the outing of his book. He said more than anything else he felt relieved “kasi sa pagkatalagal-tagal na nagsusulat ako, ngayon ko lang talaga naramdaman na may pinatutunguhan ang ginagawa ko. Sa ganito, may kongkreto akong maipapakita sa ibang tao. Gayundin, relieved kasi, tulad ng sinabi sa akin minsan ni Egay Samar tungkol sa pagkaranasan ng makalathala ng libro, parang na-exorcise na ako. Puwede na akong mag-move on. Kasi ang ‘ako’ na nagsulat ng mga kuwentong ito ay hindi na ang ‘ako’ ngayon. Ngayong libro na ang bahaging ito ng buhay ko, puwede na akong magtungo sa ibang bagay. (because for the long time I am writing, it is only now that I felt my writing is going somewhere. With this, I have something concrete to show to other people. Relieved because, like what Egay Samar said to me once about the experience of having a book published, I felt like I was exorcised. I can move one. Because the ‘I’ who wrote these stories is not the ‘I’ I am now. Now that this part of my life is a book, I can move on to other things.)”

But generally, the feeling was of euphoria, but this is later laden with consciousness of responsibility and maybe of pressure. Writing is a kind of power. Being published is a realization of that power.

“Having been published actually ushers in more challenges to refine my craft as a poet and broaden my themes further,” said Mercurio.

“I am overwhelmed but challenged to continuously hone the craft of writing,” agreed 24-year-old Jerome Mendoza Hipolito, a teacher of Central Bicol State University of Agriculture from Calabanga, Camarines Sur.

Monteseña, Lopido, Dela Cruz, Mercurio, Tuazon, Cerda, Hipolito and Benosa join Marlon Hacla, Jay Gallera Malaga, J.V.D. Perez, Adrian V. Remodo, Janis Claire B. Salvacion and Aida Campos Tiama in the celebration of the printed word made possible by the Ubod project.

The Ubod New Author series was started in 2002 by the National Committee on Literary Arts (NCLA), headed by poet and professor Ricardo De Ungria, of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Philippine government arm that administers to the country’s arts and culture and give grants to its projects. Aiming to find emerging talents and encourage them by publishing their first books, a chapbook of about fifty pages (about twenty to forty poems or five to ten short stories, etc.), Ubod took three years to select and publish its first roster of new authors from all over the country, writing in different genres and in English and different Philippine languages. Ubod is the Tagalog and Cebuano word for “heart of palm or bamboo,” meaning that the selected writers are thought to be the best of the crop. Having a book published is such a sacred honor meant for the deserving.

Out of 140 entries, the editorial board of distinguished writers led by poet and literary scholar Gemino Abad chose forty writers: Sid Hildawa, Naya Valdellon, Gabriela Lee, Raul Moldez, Rosendo Makabali and Ralph Semino Galan for poetry in English; Joseph Salazar, Edgar Calabia Samar, Richard Gappi, Joselito de los Reyes, Joselyn Floresca, Enrico Torralba, Marieta Culibao and Jema Pamintuan for poetry in Filipino; Santiago Villafania for poetry in Pangasinan; Estellito Baylon Jacob for poetry in Bikol; Anna Felicia Sanchez, Peter Mayshle, Ian Casocot, Mildred Malaki and Arifa Jamil for fiction in English; Alwyn Aguirre, Vlademeir Gonzales, Alvin Yapan, Maricris Calilung and Ernesto Carandang, Jr. for fiction in Filipino; Julio Belmes for fiction in Iluko; Januar Enero Yap for fiction in Cebuano; Genvieve Asenjo for fiction in Kinaray-a; John Barrios for fiction in Aklanon; Georgina Verdolaga and Maryanne Moll for creative nonfiction in English; Debbie Ann Tan, Christopher Gozum, and Liza Magtoto for drama in English; and Bay-viz Canleon, Edward Perez, Dennis Marasigan and Chris Martinez for drama in Filipino.

With about 800 copies published for each title, the books were launched on December 6, 2005, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Heartened by the bountiful harvest, the NCLA launched a second edition in 2009, partnering with the Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP), headed by children’s writer and literary critic Christine Bellen, of the Ateneo de Manila University.

The second Ubod garnered about 25 entries from which 14 were selected by a prestigious pool of readers, editors, translators and writers including Cles Rambaud, Eli Rueda Guieb III, Michael M. Coroza, Kristian S. Cordero, Timothy R. Montes, John Iremil Teodoro and Merlie M. Alunan, each of them specializing in a language. Literary critic Soledad Reyes served as the general editor of the collection.

Launched on August 12, 2010, at the Ateneo were Benosa’s short stories in Iluko, Dagiti Babassit nga Alipugpog (Little Whirlwinds), edited and with selected translation by Rambaud; Cerda’s short stories in Tagalog, Paglalayag Habang Naggagala ang Hilaga at Iba Pang Kuwento (Venturing While the North is Wandering and Other Stories), edited and with selected translation by Guieb; Dela Cruz’s short stories in Tagalog, Pasakalye (Introduction), edited and with selected translation by Guieb; Hacla’s poetry in Tagalog, May Mga Dumadaang Anghel sa Parang (There are Angels Passing Through the Meadow), edited and with selected translation by Coroza; Hipolito’s poetry in Bikol, Oda sa Tadik asin iba pang Bersong Bikol, edited and with selected translation by Cordero; Lopido’s poetry in Waray, Ha Salog ug iba pa nga mga Siday (In the River and Other Poems), edited and with selected translation by Alunan; Malaga’s poetry in Hiligaynon, Duha Ka Tingog (Two Voices), edited and with selected translation by Genevieve Asenjo; Mercurio’s poetry in Waray, Ayaw Pagpudla an Tuog Ug Iba pa nga mga Siday (Don’t Cut the Tuog and Other Poems), edited by Montes and with selected translation by Alunan, Salvacion and Mercurio; Monteseña’s poetry in Tagalog, Pagluluno at Iba Pang Tula (Shedding of Feathers and Other Poems), edited and with selected translation by Edgar Samar; Perez’s short stories in Hiligaynon, Ang Mga Anak Sang Montogawe (The Children of Montogawe and Other Stories), edited and with selected translation to Filipino by Teodoro; Remodo’s poetry in Bikol, Ini an Sakuyang Hawak Asin Iba Pang Bersong Bikol (This is My Body and Other Verses in Bikol), edited and with selected translation by Cordero; Salvacion’s poetry in Waray, Siso Sakradang Ug Iba pa nga mga Siday Han Tagoangkan (Seesaw Up and Down and Other Poems From the Womb), edited and with selected translation by Alunan; Tiama’s poetry in Iluko, Pinagbiahe (Journey), edited and with selected translation by Rambaud; and Tuazon’s poetry in Cebuano, Tanang Namilit sa Hangin (Everything Wind-borne), edited and with selected translation by Alunan.

The new authors, whose ages range from 23 to 44, come from a variety of professions, as it is not possible in the country to make a living on creative writing alone. Most are teachers as with most of the writers in the country are. Teaching most likely is the profession that is most compatible with writing.

It is noticeable that ten of new set of Ubod books are poetry, considered the most “refined” of the literary arts but the most “unprofitable.” While publication of poetry in popular avenues like magazines and even in book form declines, Ubod provides an opportunity for it. But the most notable aspect of the Ubod project is that it allows publication in the different vernacular languages of the country, which have no or limited venue. Ubod has the potential to renew or energize writing in the vernaculars.

Sa labing-apat na kalipunan, apat lamang ang naisulat sa Filipino; walo sa iba’t ibang bernakular. At ilan sa mga akdang ito ay isinalin sa Filipino at sa Ingles upang mabasa ng higit na malaking publiko. Napakaluwang na pintuan ang binuksan ng seryeng Ubod sa paglutang ng panitikan mula sa iba’t ibang rehiyon. Patunay lamang ito na sa sistemang waring pinaghaharian ng panitikang Tagalog, buong lakas na maigigiit at maisusulong ang iba pang uri ng teksto sa ibang mga wika. Kailangan ito tungo sa sistematiko at masinsinang paghabi ng panitikan ng Pilipinas—pagpupuno sa guwang at espasyo ng ating kasaysayan (In the collection of 14, only four are written in Filipino; eight in the different vernaculars. Several of these works were translated into Filipino and English in able to be read by a wider audience. The Ubod series opened a big door for the surfacing of literature from the different regions. This is proof that in the system in which Tagalog literature seems to reign other kinds of texts in different languages can emerge and progress with might. This is needed towards a systematic and earnest weaving of Philippine literature—filling in the gaps and spaces of our history),” wrote Reyes in her foreword to the Ubod collection.

To many new authors, the ability to write and get published in the vernacular languages is Ubod’s attraction as well as its most powerful aspect, which gives an added specialness to the already special feeling of having a first book published.

“The Ubod project gives writers a shot at having their works published in book form,” Benosa, a linguistic graduate and a member of Gumil, an organization of writers in Iluko, explained. “It is especially helpful for writers in the vernaculars whose chances of having their books published is much slimmer compared to their Tagalog and English counterparts as university presses, especially those in Manila, favor works written in languages for wider communication, that is, Tagalog and English. In order for vernacular works to be published, they generally need to be translated to either Tagalog or English first. Ubod not only publishes works in their original languages, it also allows some works in a collection to be translated.”

She added: “I hope the Ubod project will give the vernacular literatures the respect that they deserve.”

“I hope my book will inspire young Bikolano writers to publish their own. My book is one of the proofs that Bikol literature is continuously flourishing,” Hipolito said. “The chapbook is very special to me because this is my contribution to Bikol literature.”

“For me who came from an upstream barangay, a far-flung barangay in Dolores, Eastern Samar, this (his book) is really a big accomplishment considering that this is published through a national grant, which accepted our works to be published,” related Lopido. “The stories of (my) poems were based on experiences in the place where I grew up, including the culture, beliefs and the setting. This book is a manifestation that Waray literature is still alive. Thanks to the creative writing programs in Eastern Visayas, particularly the UP (University of the Philippines) Creative Writing Workshop and Lamiraw in Northwest Samar State University as well as the Iligan National Writers’ Workshop, which were part of the realization of this book.”

For Tuazon, his book is “my simple contribution to Binisaya-Sinugboanon literature. Sa wakas, may mailagay nang aklat na isinulat sa naturang lengguwahe sa estante ng aming library. (At last, there is now a book written in that language, which can be placed on the shelves of our library)”

He hopes that his work as well as other works in the series are read by the whole country so that they will know “na buhay na buhay at humihinga ang regional literature na inakalang lumisan na at ang Philippine literature ay pinaghaharian lamang ng mga nasa sentro. (regional literature is alive and kicking, which many thought dead and that Philippine literature is ruled by those in the center.)”

For Mercurio, who is responsible for putting up the writing workshop Lamiraw in his hometown, finds more self-fulfilment in promoting regional literature.

“I was able to write this collection out of the need to help revive Waray literature. It is not really meant just to showcase my literary works and creative techniques but more of telling the world out there that Waray literature is alive and kicking, that it is not dead. Perhaps, it just hibernated for awhile but now it has awakened from its deep slumber, and it is back on its track to reclaim its forgotten glory,” he declared. “I hope that my book will serve as an inspiration to young Waray writers to embrace tradition and, at the same time, absorb modern techniques in writing. I am optimistic that this publication will encourage writers in the regional languages to search for their unique voice in the world of creative writing. I am looking forward to having more Waray poems and short stories published in the coming years.”

While others who write in their own languages struggled to find a venue for their writings, Benosa struggled to find her way back to her mother tongue.

“I wasn’t really very good at writing in Ilocano. Though I have been reading Ilocano materials since I was a kid, I never wrote in the vernacular. And since it wasn’t used and taught in school, I did not know its grammar and orthography well enough to write in the language. So at first, it was very difficult for me to write in Ilocano,” she related. “The very first Ilocano short story I wrote (‘Pasuksok’) was originally in English. It took me weeks to translate it into Ilocano. It was in 2007 when I made the decision to write in my mother tongue that I forced myself to write directly in Ilocano. It was very difficult. I had lots of blanks, as well as Tagalog and English words scattered all over the drafts. Editing took a long time. I had to consult the dictionary many times and ask people about the Ilocano translation of lots of terms. But I persevered, writing nothing except Ilocano sentences. After three months of constant practice, in December 2007, I wrote my very first short story directly in Ilocano. To me, it was a great achievement.”

With Ubod, Benosa found new encouragement to pursue writing in Iluko and even in other languages: “I have several plans, but I am still deciding which to pursue first. I am thinking of trying my hand at Tagalog writing, or going back to writing in English. Or perhaps writing a novel in Ilocano. Definitely I’ll continue writing for children and eventually put up a publishing company.”

It is precious also the encouragement and the affirmation the Ubod project gives to emerging writers. Many in the first harvest have continued writing and are now known writers. In this second batch, one notices the fire, now stoked for grander things.

Dela Cruz, who dreams of becoming a National Artist for literature, said: “Naiinggit ako sa mga kaibigan, kaklase at kakilala na may publication na at nanalo na sa Palanca at sa iba pang literary competition. Eh, sabi ko, bakit ako wala pa ring achievement sa pagsusulat? Iba siyempre ‘yong mga napanalunan kong essay writing contest noong elementary at high school. Eh, ngayong bahagi na ako ng Ubod, may yabang factor talaga. Importante ito dahil kahit paano may nagsasabing may talent din pala ako sa pagsusulat. Siyempre, nakaka-boost ng self-esteem. Ngayon, mas lalo akong ginanahang magsulat. (I envied my friends, classmates and acquaintances who have been published and who have won in the Palanca and other literary competitions. I thought why I haven’t achieved anything in writing? The essay writing contests I won during elementary and high school, those are different. Now, I am part of Ubod. This is important because someone is saying that I also have a talent in writing. Of course, it boosts your self-esteem. Now, I am more inspired to write)”

For Mercurio, who dreams of writing a novel in Waray, his book “is important in the sense that it serves as a milestone of my writing career…It inspires me to write more poems or even branch out to other genres, like the short story. Moreover, it promises and signals the coming of other works written by young writers in the Waray language, especially by Lamiraw writers at the Northwest Samar State University (NwSSU) in Calbayog City.”

With renewed vigor, he is “looking forward to organizing more writers’ guilds in Samar in order to boost the revival of Waray literature. Well, Lamiraw is already an established writers’ organization in NwSSU. CALAO (Calbayog Literary Arts Organization) is already there in the city consisting of traditional and modern writers. Likewise, ALAG (Abaknon Literary Arts Guild) is already in place in Capul, Northern Samar. But we feel that we still need to encourage more writers in the region to write in their mother tongue. We, the contemporary Waray writers in Region 8 like Voltaire Oyzon, Neil Lopido, Janis Salvacion, Jhonil Bajado, Nemesio ‘Totoy’ Baldesco and Dante Rosales, are actually aiming to create a tsunami of publications written in our mother language.”

The Ubod project means many things and may start many things. Ubod and the first publication of a book are all these and much more—blossoming, fruiting, ramification, defiance of death of any kind. A book is man’s bid to immortality.

“Life is short and art is long. Isang simpleng paraan kung paano maging imortal tulad ng hangin (a simple way to being immortal like the wind),” Tuazon said of having a book.

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