Among other things, we are potently affected and eventually changed by some films we watch, a theatrical piece, or a painting. That is one power of art in its different forms. Also, art forms constantly evolve, and they are changed by us, over time, reflecting our thoughts and shaped by the prevailing modes and moods, but they remain universal, the old ones affecting us as much as the new ones. Literature is one of the most powerful arts that change us and the world, and it is constantly transforming. This power of the written word is highlighted in this year’s celebration of National Arts Month in April.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) lead in the celebration of National Literature Month, aptly choosing the theme “Banyuhay,” the Filipino word for “metamorphosis.” The word was coined by Alejandro G. Abadilla, the father of modern Filipino poetry, in the 1950s, contracting the phrase “bagong anyo ng búhay,” new form of life. The theme emphasizes that literature, as a creative endeavor, is also a political and social institution as well as a force that shapes life and everyday living. It is a vital instrument that helps us evaluate and implement right and necessary changes.
For the whole April, literary and cultural events are lined up to enable us to gain new perspective and insights, to discover something about us and the world, and to find ways to change ourselves and the world, as well as to take pleasure in the exquisite beauty of words, written, oral, performed or transformed into other forms.
In the couple of years that the National Literature Month has been celebrated, the commemoration of the greatest Tagalog poet, Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar, has become an emerging tradition. Thus, the month will kick off with the Araw ni Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar on April 2.
On the 229th birth anniversary of Baltazar, KWF is monumentalizing his creative deeds as heroism with the theme “Balagtas: Bayani” (Balagtas: Hero). Indeed, his sacrifice in creating great literary works leads to the enrichment of us all.
The celebration will kick-off with the Pambansang Kampong Balagtas 2017, a literary camp that will gather 100 student-writers from all over the Philippines. It will be held from March 31 to April 2 at the Orion Elementary School in Orion, Bataan, where Baltazar spent a part of his life. On Balagtas Day, a wreath-laying ceremony will be held at the barangay of Wawa, where a monument was installed two years ago.
During the camp, outstanding writers will be honored on April 2 with the conferment of the Gawad Dangal ni Balagtas and Talaang Ginto: Makata ng Taon. The list of previous inductees in Gawad Dangal ni Balagtas, an award given by KWF that honors the lifetime achievement award for writing in Filipino, include esteemed poets Lamberto Antonio (2013), Teodoro “Teo” Antonio (2014), Rogelio Mangahas (2015), and Jose Maria “Pete” Lacaba (2016). Since 1963, Talaang Ginto has been giving the best Filipino poets their due credit. Belonging to the illustrious list of Poets of the Year (Mga Makata ng Taon) are Lamberto Antonio, Teo Antonio, Rogelio Mangahas, Mike Bigornia, Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo, National Artists Virgilio S. Almario, Cirilio Bautista and Bienvenido Lumbera, among others.
For the love of books
National Literature Month also presents and promotes the different aspects of the book publishing industry in a new light. This aspect will be brought to fore by NBDB, which will hold the second Pinoy Book Stop Tour, highlighting libraries and independent and campus-based bookstores within and south of Metro Manila on April 7 and 8. National Book Award winners will be featured through book talks, poetry readings and music performances together with visits to different bookstores.
On April 23, various book-related activities will be held in celebration of World Book and Copyright Day (WBCD). As declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 1995, WBCD aims to pay tribute to books and authors and to encourage more Filipinos to discover the pleasure of reading. This year, NBDB will spearhead another Book Fiesta where book lovers and copyright advocates will be treated to a whole day of festive gathering with a book market by Philippine publishers and activity/exhibit booths by different book clubs and writers’ groups.
As NBDB’s culminating activity for the National Literature Month, the 8th Philippine International Literary Festival (PILF) will be held on April 27 and 28. Plenary sessions and parallel working group sessions will explore socially relevant issues in literature and the book industry. Coinciding with the festival is a book fair that will showcase the latest Filipino-authored titles.
Learning about and honing the craft
The Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center (BNSCWC) of the De La Salle University will hold the second IWP Alumni Writers Workshop from April 6 to 8, and the 17th Iyas La Salle National Writers’ Workshop from April 24 and 26, 2017, both at the European Documentation Centre of the De La Salle University in Manila.
The IWP Alumni Writers Workshop is named after the Filipino writers who completed the prestigious International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, some of whom will serve as panelists and lecturers. The panelists will include Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta (who is also the workshop director), Susan Lara, Eros Atalia, Carlomar Arcangel Daoana, and Angelo “Sarge” Lacuesta. Lourd de Veyra will deliver the keynote address. The workshop will cover writing in English in four genres: poetry, non-fiction, fiction and screenplay. Ten fellowships will be given to Metro Manila-based young writers aged 18 to 35. Themes for the manuscripts should be on the environment and civic engagements (such as war, peace, human rights, women’s empowerment and indigenous peoples’ issues).
On the other hand, the 17th Iyas National Writers’ Workshop awards fellowships to 10 aspiring writers in English, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and Tagalog or Filipino. The genres include poetry, fiction, and drama. Preferred themes for this year are ones dealing with humanity and environment. Poet Marjorie Evasco will serve as workshop director, and the panelists will include Ricardo de Ungria, Grace Monte de Ramos, John Iremil Teodoro and Em Mendez.
On the other hand, the Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) will hold “For Love of the Word: Workshops on Teaching Philippine Literature in High School and College” from April 3 to 4 at the Northwest Samar State University in Calbayog City, Samar. The focus will be on 21st-century Philippine literature from the regions. The resource speakers will include Victor Sugbo, Dinah Roma and Harold Mercurio. As part of the program, a forum will feature writers based in Eastern Visayas who will read their works and talk about the topic “Writing to Sustain our Home, our Habitat.” The project head is Lito B. Zulueta, national secretary of Philippine PEN. The workshop is geared toward retooling and upgrading the skills of literature teachers in both secondary and tertiary levels.
Discussing creative writing
The Polytechnic University of the Philippines Center for Creative Writing (PUP-CCW) will spearheaded a lecture series. Three sub-genres of fiction will be discussed in the three day lecture series slated for April 19 to 21. Award-winning writer and Iowa Writers Workshop fellow Eros Atalia will talk about young adult fiction lecture. Joining Atalia will be Zeno, whose first novel Uberman won the Madrigal Gonzales First Book Award and recipient of the Cirilio Bautista Prize, and Lenin Carlos Mirasol, who was awarded the Southeast Asia Young Writer’s Prize for local language. Writer in Hiligaynon, Filipino and English Dr. Genevieve Ansejo will discuss erotic literature on April 20. Closing the series will be a lecture on children’s literature to be facilitated by Palanca awardees and professors Eugene Evasco of the University of the Philippines and Christine Belen of Ateneo de Manila University.
A gathering of writers
The Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL), or The Writers Union of the Philippines) will hold its National Writers Congress on April 29 at the Brother Andrew Gonzales Building of De La Salle University, along Taft Avenue in Manila.
The program will consist of a keynote address and writers fora. The awards ceremony of the annual Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Francisco Balagtas, Gawad Paz Marquez Benitez, and Gawad Pedro Bucaneg will be held in the afternoon.
The overarching theme of the congress is “Ang Panitikan sa Panahon ng Tokhang (Literature During the Bloody War on Drugs)” featuring a keynote lecture by Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr., a multi-awarded writer.
The speakers for the writers’ forum, “Ang Papel ng Manunulat sa Panahonng Tokhang,” are Lourd de Veyra, Joel Salud, and Juana Change (Mae Paner) with Karina Bolasco serving as the moderator. The speakers for another forum, “Paglalakong Opinyon, Pagkabigong Gunita (Opinion Peddling, the Failure of Memory),” are Floy Quintos, Frank Cimatu, and Joyce Martin with Louie Jon Sanchez serving as as moderator.
The congress’ highlight will be the conferment of the three major awards given by UMPIL since 1988. This year’s recipients of the Gawad Alagad ni Francisco Balagtas, a lifetime achievement award for literary writing, are Romulo Baquiran (poetry in Filipino), Luis Gatmaitan (children’s fiction in Filipino), Marne Kilates (poetry in English), Liza Magtoto (play in Filipino), Jameson Ong (poetry in Chinese), Carla Pacis (children’s story in English), Vicente Rafael (criticism in English), CriseldaYabes (essay and fiction in English), and Melchor Yburan (poetry in Cebuano). Receiving the Gawad Paz Marquez Benitez, an award for achievement in literary education, are Alicia Magos, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo and the editor-translator of Panay Bukidnon epics published by the University of the Philippines Press. The Gawad Pedro Bucaneg, an award for outstanding literary organizations, will be given to Thousand Islands, an organization of Chinese-Filipino writers.
The closing ceremonies of the National Literature Month celebration will also be held during this congress
More literary events
Aside from these, there are more events and activities that will make your summer a fulfilling and transformative one. These include “Spoken Word Poetry: Performance Forum” at the
Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology in Iligan City on April 10 and 11; Sine Bughaw of Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILIP) of the Ateneo de Manila University; the 2017 Kausaban: Forum on Creative Writing at the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City on April 15 and 16; Perigrinasyong Emilio Jacinto in Majayjay, Laguna, on April 16; the PUP literary caravan in different PUP campuses; Laji Singing Competition in Basco, Batanes, on April 22 and 23; Lakbay sa Pampanitikang Pangkampus of AILAP on April 19; Pambansang Reorientasyon sa Panitikan in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte, from April 19 to 21; “Beyond Mainstream: A Martial Law Anthology and Seminar” by the Kingfisher Interim from April 18 to 22; UST Publishing House’s mega book launch on April 25; and “Brushes with Words and Chords 2017” at the UST on April 26, among others.
This is the third year of celebrating National Literature Month remains robust with the support of National Artist for literature Virgilio Almario or Rio Alma. It is his efforts that Proclamation No. 968 was signed in 2015. The proclamation declares the month of April as Buwan ng Panitikan ng Filipinas or National Literature Month, stating that “Philippine literature, written in different Philippine languages, is associated with the history and cultural legacy of the State, and must be promoted among Filipinos,” and that “national literature plays an important role in preserving and inspiring the literature of today and in introducing to future generations the Filipino values that we have inherited from our ancestors.”