Captivating the readers’ minds is the one great task of any novelist. These writers have to challenge themselves to overcome this overwhelming sense of doubt and create beautifully written masterpieces that can stand the test of time.
The Philippines is lucky to be blessed with incredibly gifted writers who have written impressive and relatable stories about the Filipino people and their culture. Authors like F. Sionil Jose, who have written countless books for many Filipinos to enjoy and learn from, is just one of the writers who have established themselves in the industry. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of these authors get overlooked, despite their effort in writing and getting their works published.
In turn, we plan to give you an inside look on what it really means to be a Filipino writer in the contemporary Philippine society.
Western literature and bookstores
Former Lasallian and author of the novel We who Cannot be Daughters, Clarissa Militante is one of the more modern writers we have today. With one of her published works listed in the 2009 Man Asia Literary Prize, she is one writer we should all watch out for.
As one of the founding editors of the Malate Journal (1983), she has always been inclined to writing but has never thought it would turn out to be her profession. “Never did I imagine that I will write novels, and in English. But it was the voice—and the novel was the vehicle for that voice—that was being born when I picked up my pen again in 2001,” she adds. Even though she has never thought of writing as her career path, she still found joy and solace in composing Philippine fiction. Today, she continues to put her vivid imagination into words as a freelance writer.
Additionally, Militante takes pride in being a Filipino writer, more so, as her work is being read and appreciated by many readers today. She says, “It makes me feel good that my work passed through readers and they put their stamp of approval on it”. Though, she admits that being a Filipino writer is not as easy or glamorous as some people set it out to be.
In a community that highly advertises Western literature, it’s difficult for Filipino writers to stand out and get recognized. This is especially evident in the current bookstore setting we have. “It really pains me when I enter the leading bookstores, National [Bookstore], Powerbooks, Fully booked, and I see laid out on tables in prominent spaces are the books by foreign authors while our books are languishing in the obscure Filipiniana section,” she explains.
The lack of advertising in major bookstores has allowed many Filipino readers to disregard work done by contemporary Filipino writers. Militante attributes this categorization to the Filipinos’ inherent colonial mentality calling it “a remnant of our colonial experience.” In effect, she highly advises the Filipino youth to diversify their reading and expose themselves to different works of literature, and recommends that they read works written by Filipino writers such as Edgar Samar and Luna Sicat. It’s through these ways that more Filipinos can be more open to appreciating Philippine literature.
Unfair comparisons and the future
Another noteworthy local writer is Genevieve Asenjo, who is actually the mentor of Militante. She is a novelist and DLSU professor who hails from Iloilo, and pays homage to her roots by writing in Kinaray-a, Hiligaynon, and Filipino, which are featured in her novel Lumbay ng Dila. The said book not only won outstanding dissertation when Dr. Asenjo took up her Ph.D. in University of the Philippines – Diliman, it also won the National Book Award in 2011.
From the outset, Asenjo points out that local writers should not be compared to foreign writers, as there is no fair point of comparison. Unlike foreign writers, local writers cannot afford to be full-time writers, since publishing houses simply print books, and do not offer publicity packages for the writers. She shares that promotional tours are hard to get, due to the archipelagic nature of the Philippines, and also due to the numerous languages spoken in the country. Furthermore, given the limited income of Filipino families, there is no incentive for them to read, much more support local writers and their works. In one of her trips home to Iloilo, she even had to purchase copies of her book to share to the students there, as supply cannot meet demand.
Despite the challenges she faces as a Filipino writer, she believes that her work in general is fulfilling, as it allows her to meet new people, travel to various places, such as South Korea, and Iowa in the United States, and spend her downtime at coffee shops in the metro. She also mentions the growth of book clubs in the country, such as Pinoy Reads Pinoy Books, which will eventually raise a generation of creative and critical thinkers.
In her upcoming book, Kamatayan sa Isla Boracay, releasing in 2015, she hopes to shed light on the original inhabitants of Boracay, and the industrialization that drove them away. In doing so, she wants readers to know that there are contemporary Filipino books that are hungering to be discovered. In this particular book, Boracay is not anymore the tourist destination, but the land of the Aetas. By incorporating illustrations into her book, readers will be treated to a visual buffet of what Boracay was before industrialization stepped in.
What authors want
Authors write because it satisfies their passion for the written word, not necessarily for the glamorous life it affords them. In parting, both Militante and Asenjo express their desire for more reader support, as authors already do their part in writing. In turn, readers should patronize local works by buying them. After all, writing is a solitary activity, and authors sometimes have to battle loneliness along with lack of ideas to write about. This is why writers stress the importance of having a mentor and attending writer’s workshops, for these are sources of feedback that will aid them along the way. Ultimately, one cannot write without reading, without going beyond one’s comfort zone and living life to the fullest.