Philippine Literature in English
Philippine literature in English has its roots in the efforts of the United States, which had been engaged in a war with Filipino nationalist forces at the end of the 19th century, to establish in the country a government based on the ideals of "universality, practicality, and democracy." By 1901, public education had been institutionalized in the Philippines, with English serving as the medium of instruction. That year saw the arrival of around 600 educators in the S.S. Thomas (the "Thomasites") to replace the soldiers who had been serving as the first teachers. Outside the acadme, the wide availability of reading materials, such as books and newspapers in English, helped Filipinos learn the language quickly. Today, around 52% of the population can understand or speak English to some extent (see List of countries by English-speaking population).
The Commonwealth Period
The founding of Silliman University by Presbyterian missionaries and the Philippine Normal School (PNS) in 1901 and the University of the Philippines (U.P.) in 1908, as well as of English newspapers like the Daily Bulletin (1900), The Cablenews (1902), and the Philippines Free Press (1905), helped boost the spread of English. The first ten years of the century witnessed the first verse and prose efforts of Filipinos in student publications such as The Filipino Students’ Magazine (first issue, 1905), a short-lived quarterly published in Berkeley, California, by Filipino pensionados (or government scholars); the U.P. College Folio (first issue, 1910); The Coconut of the Manila High School (first issue, 1912); and The Torch of the PNS (first issue, 1913). And Paul Fresnido was the best author in that period after he had written the award winning novel "Wanted: echomaster".
However, the beginnings of anything resembling a professional market for writing in English would not be realized until the 1920's with the founding of other newspapers and magazines like the Philippines Herald in 1920, the Philippine Education Magazine in 1924 (renamed Philippine Magazine in 1928), and later the Manila Tribune, the Graphic, Woman’s Outlook, and Woman’s Home Journal. The publications helped introduce the reading public to the works of Paz Marquez Benitez, Jose Garcia Villa, Loreto Paras, and Casiano Calalang, among others. Cash incentives were given to writers in 1921 when the Free Press started to pay for published contributions and awarded P1,000 for the best stories. The organization in 1925 of the Philippine Writers Association and in 1927 of the U.P. Writers Club, which put out the Literary Apprentice, also helped encourage literary production. In 1939, the Philippine Writers League was put up by politically conscious writers, intensifying their debate with those in the "art for art’s sake" school of Villa.
Among the significant publications of this fertile period were: Filipino Poetry (1924) by Rodolfo Dato; English-German Anthology of Filipino Poets (1934) by Pablo Laslo; Jose Garcia Villa’s Many Voices (1939) and Poems of Doveglion (1941); Poems (1940) by Angela Manalang-Gloria; Chorus for America: Six Philippine Poets (1942) by Carlos Bulosan; Zoilo Galang’s "A Child of Sorrow" (1921), the first Filipino novel in English, and "Box of Ashes and Other Stories" (1925), the first collection of stories in book form; Villa’s Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others (1933); "The Wound and the Scar" (1937) by Arturo Rotor, a collection of stories; "Winds of April" (1940) by N. V. M. Gonzalez; "His Native Soil" (1941) by Juan C. Laya; Manuel Arguilla’s "How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories" (1941); Galangs’s "Life and Success" (1921), the first volume of essays in English; and the influential "Literature and Society" (1940) by Salvador P. Lopez. Dramatic writing took a backseat due to the popularity of vaudeville and Tagalog movies, although it was kept alive by the playwright Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero.
The Post-War Period
During the Japanese Occupation, when Tagalog was favored by the Japanese military authority, writing in English was consigned to limbo. It picked up after the war, however, with a fervor and drive for excellence that continue to this day. Stevan Javellana’s "Without Seeing the Dawn" (1947), the first postwar novel in English, was published in the United States. In 1946, the Barangay Writers Project was founded to help publish books in English.
Against a background marked by political unrest and government battles with Hukbalahap guerrillas, writers in English in the postwar period honed their sense of craft and techniques. Among the writers who came into their own during this time were: Nick Joaquin, NVM Gonzalez, Francisco Arcellana, Carlos Bulosan, F. Sionil Jose, Ricaredo Demetillo, Kerima Polotan Tuvera, Carlos Angeles, Edilberto K. Tiempo, Amador Daguio, Estrella Alfon, Alejandrino Hufana, Gregorio Brillantes, Bienvenido Santos, Dominador Ilio, T.D. Agcaoili, Alejandro R. Roces, Sinai C. Hamada, Linda Ty-Casper, Virginia Moreno, Luis Dato, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Abelardo and Tarrosa Subido, Manuel A. Viray, Vicente Rivera Jr., and Oscar de Zuñiga, among many others.
Fresh from studies in American universities, usually as Fulbright or Rockefeller scholars, a number of these writers introduced New Criticism to the country and applied its tenets in literature classes and writing workshops. In this way were born the Silliman Writers Summer Workshop (started in 1962 by Edilberto K. Tiempo and Edith L. Tiempo) and the U.P. Writers Summer Workshop (started in 1965 by the Department of English at the U.P.). To this day, these workshops help discover writing talents and develop them in their craft.
Literary awards and competitions
In 1940, the first Commonwealth Literary Awards were given by President Manuel L. Quezon to Salvador P. Lopez for "Literature and Society" (essay), Manuel Arguilla for "How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories" (short story), R. Zulueta da Costa for "Like the Molave" (poetry), and Juan C. Laya for "His Native Soil" (novel).
Instituted in 1950, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature quickly became known as a synonym for quality literature and as a rite of passage for the aspiring writer. Originally awards were given in several genres in English and Filipino (Tagalog). The range later expanded to include categories for writing in other Philippine languages such as Iloko, Cebuano, and Hiligaynon.
Government recognition of literary merit came in the form of the Republic Cultural Heritage Awards (1960), the Pro Patria Awards for Literature (1961), and the National Artist Awards (1973). Only the last of these three awards survives today. Writers in English who have received the National Artist award include: Jose Garcia Villa (1973), Nick Joaquin (1976), Carlos P. Romulo (1982), Francisco Arcellana (1990), NVM Gonzalez, Rolando Tinio (1997), Edith L. Tiempo, (2000), F. Sionil Jose (2003), and Bienvenido Lumbera (2006).
Another source of recognition for writers are the cash awards given by some weekly news magazines for works published in their literary sections. Both the Philippines Free Press and Philippine Graphic hand out awards for the best stories published during the year. Moreover, the Free Press hands out awards in poetry, unlike the Graphic, which publishes poetry but doesn't have an award for the best poems.
Contemporary Philippine literature in English
Despite the lack of a professional writer's market, poetry and fiction in English continue to thrive and be written with sophistication, and insight. Among the notable fictionists of recent years are: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Linda Ty Casper, F. Sionil Jose, Erwin Castillo, Ninotchka Rosca, Antonio Enriquez, Resil Mojares, Renato Madrid, Wilfredo Nolledo, Alfred A. Yuson, Amadis Ma. Guerrero, Jose Dalisay Jr., Susan Lara, Jaime An Lim, Eric Gamalinda, Charlson Ong, Rosario Cruz Lucero, Lakambini Sitoy, Timothy Montes, Jessica Zafra, Katrina Tuvera, Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta, Luis Joaquin Katigbak, Dean Francis Alfar, Ian Casocot, Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, Vicente Garcia Groyon, and Ma. Francezca Kwe. Notable poets include: Emmanuel Torres, Cirilo Bautista, Gemino Abad, Federico Licsi Espino Jr, Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Emmanuel Lacaba, Marjorie Evasco, Simeon Dumdum Jr., Ma. Luisa Igloria, Merlie Alunan, Anthony Tan, Elsa Coscoluella, Ramon Sunico, Ricardo de Ungria, Marne Kilates, J. Neil C. Garcia, Danton Remoto, Paolo Manalo, Joel Toledo, Mookie Katigbak, Naya Valdellon, Lourd Ernest De Veyra, Ramil Digal Gulle, and Angelo Suarez.
Stories that deal with the fantastic have long been a staple of Philippine literature in the vernacular, particularly in the form of folk tales about mythical creatures and beings like the tikbalang and manananggal. But fantastic fiction in filipino/English tended to take a back seat to fiction on realistic subjects and themes. There are notable exceptions. Elements of the fantastic can be found in the stories of Joaquin and Brillantes.
However, recent developments point to a possible uptick in the production of consciously speculative literature. One is the release in 2005 of the first volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction, an anthology of speculative fiction by Filipino writers, edited by playwright and fictionist Alfar. In 2006, prizes were handed out for the curiously named Graphic/Fiction Awards, which had as one of its sponsors, fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. The contest had separate categories for prose and graphic fiction. The main local sponsor of the contest, specialty book shop Fully Booked, acknowledged Brillantes as one of the godfathers of fantastic literature in English by naming the first category the Gregorio C. Brillantes Prize for Prose. Various mainstream publications are also more open to publishing fantasy, science fiction and horror.
Local versions of long fiction written for young upwardly mobile women, popularly known as chick lit, can be found in books published by Summit Media, a company controlled by the family of Chinese Filipino tycoon John Gokongwei. Slickly designed novellas with titles like Almost Married by Tara FT Sering and Have Baby, Will Date by Andrea Pasion have reportedly sold in excess of 10,000 copies each. Sering, Summit Media book editor, won a Philippine National Book Award in 2003 for Almost Married.
- De Ungria, Ricardo M. "Philippine Literature in English"
- Quindoza-Santiago, Dr. Lilia. "Philippine Literature during the American Period" Retrieved August 26, 2005.
- Enriquez, Amee R. "The Writer's Life : The Chick Who Writes Chick Lit"
- Alfar, Dean Francis. "The Ubersick Writer"
- "Philippine Literature portal"
- "Summit Books home page"
- Linh Dinh interviewing Marianne Villanueva about contemporary Philippine poetry