February, with all the red, pink, and white paper hearts dangling inside stores and love songs played out with (spooky) repetition all over town, is almost like December. Well, just almost. The month is filled with a couple of obvious reasons for us to celebrate, it being Heart and Art Month at the same time.
The latter is being observed in the Philippines with the seriousness of a reader irrevocably hooked to a good book. In fact, Presidential Proclamation 683 signed in 1991 declared February as National Arts Month (NAM) for the country, and we have a credible agency, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, taking the lead to organize various NAM activities all over the islands, including the recently held Taboan literary arts festival in Dumaguete City.
To keep up with the celebration, here at Simple Clockwork, let us get to know Philippines’ National Artists for Literature. After all, the Order of the National Artists Award (Orden ng Gawad Pambansang Alagad ng Sining) is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine Arts. More than that, it honors the country’s cultural heritage that has become enriched because of these contributions.
I admit, I don’t know all of the National Artists for Literature until today. Well, for an excuse, I can easily say I was not a literature major (although, on second thought, I did take up a couple of literature units), but I am a Filipino and that puts me in a position without any excuses at all.
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Villa is known for a lot of things--his unforgettable way of capturing the attention of a crowd, the tartness of his tongue. But no one can dispute his incredible talent as a poet and writer. He is, in fact, considered as one of the “finest contemporary poets regardless of race or language”. He introduced the reversed consonance rime scheme in poetry. Attributing to himself the characters Dove, Eagle, and Lion, he combined these three and used Doveglion as a penname. And guess what, E.E. Cummings wrote a poem for Villa, titled “Doveglion, Adventures in Value”.
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National Artist for Literature (1973)
Hernandez is what we call a “committed artist” through and through, with the way he live by his belief that the function of the writer is “to act as the conscience of society and to affirm the greatness of the human spirit in the face of inequity and oppression”. He wrote his novel “Mga Ibong Mandaragit” while in prison. It is considered the first Filipino socio-political novel that exposes the diseases of the society through the agrarian disputes in the 1950s.
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National Artist for Literature (1976)
Like all other national artists, Joaquin and his works are timeless. But to me, he is more memorable because I was debating with myself in a bookstore between choosing his “The Woman Who Had Two Navels” (uniquely titled, if I may add) or F. Sionil Jose’s “Gagamba” for a school paper. I ended up with the latter for childish reasons I could no longer remember. Still, I read the former, although I haven’t gotten around to finishing it yet. Joaquin is praised for his exploration of the Philippine colonial past under Spain and his scrutiny into the psychology of social changes from a young generation’s perspective. He has an insane love for books such that he preferred them as his educational and self-enrichment materials than classroom work.
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National Artist for Literature (1982)
Romulo is well known for his being the Philippine’s foremost diplomat and advocate of a continued wholesome Philippine-American friendship. But I would like to remember him as a writer and as a smiling individual with significant contributions to the country starting from when became a reporter at 16, a newspaper editor at 20, a publisher at 32, and later on, a public servant who received many recognitions. Above all, during his time, he was the only Asian to win America’s coveted Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for his series of articles predicting the outbreak of World War II.
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National Artist for Literature (1990)
Arcellana is a writer, poet, essayist, critic, journalist, and teacher. But I will always remember him for his beautiful poignant short stories. He is an important precursor in the development of modern Filipino short story in English. I will not forget his short stories, “The Flowers of May”, “The Mats”, and “How To Read”. Of his own stories, he considered “Thy Kingdom Come” (which I still have to read). Because of his quiet disposition, Arcellana prefers soft spoken and quite people, such as the shy, silent writers Vicente Rivera Jr., and Carlos Angeles.
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National Artist for Literature (1990)
Oh, how can I forget Gonzales’ memorable Children of the Ash-Covered Loam? In my mind, I could still remember the clashing scent of early morning dew and the kaingin smoke when I read the story. A fictionist, essayist, poet, and teacher, Gonzales’ incredible talent lies in reflecting the Philippine culture and spirit in rural and urban landscapes. His works have appeared in practically all the leading pre- and post- World War II magazines in Manila and in various journals abroad.
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National Artist for Literature (1999)
Tiempo is the only female in the group of current roster of National Artists for Literature. I best associated her with the Silliman National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City, which she founded and directed with her husband, Edilberto K. Tiempo and helped produced some of the country’s best writers. I’ve read several of her poems, and I appreciate her contemplative style and profound substance.
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National Artist for Literature (2001)
Jose recently visited Cebu for a lecture and graced the theatrical portrayal of his short fiction, “Progress”, which I will talk about in another post. Mel U of The Reading Life made a recent post on Jose’s “The God Stealer”. Common in his works is the simple yet profound way of espousing the aspirations of the Filipino people and at the same time reflecting his belief that the writer has a strong obligation to the society. He is owner-manager of Solidaridad Bookshop.
|Photo Source: www.tabaon09-delegates.blogspot.com|
National Artist for Literature (2003)
Honestly, I’ve only heard of Virgilio Almario just recently. I found out about him while I was reading some short stories compiled through Likhaan, the publication program of the University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing. One of the editors in previous journals is Almario himself. What I like from among the facts I discovered about him is how he made a mark in Philippine children’s literature by establishing the Children’s Communication Center, which publishes the Aklat Adarna series, and how he himself has written stories for children and directed children’s illustrators.
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National Artist for Literature (2003)
This man can truly move mountains. Apart from being considered the country’s best writer of comic short stories (I look forward to reading some of them), he is a champion of Filipino cultures as evident in his own writing and in his causes. He popularized several local fiestas, including Moriones and Ati-atihan, led the campaign to change the Philippines’ Independence Day from July 4 to June 12, provoked the change of language in country’s stamps, currency, and passports from English to Filipino, and recovered Jose Rizal’s manuscripts when they were stolen from the National Archives.
|Photo Source: www.designbluemanila.com|
National Artist for Literature (2006)
Lumbera, one of the leading literary critics of Philippine literature, reads and writes both Pilipino and English. He is also a poet, librettist, and scholar. He introduced to Tagalog literature the “Bagay” poetry, which is described as “a landmark aesthetic tendency that has helped to change the vernacular poetic tradition”.
So, folks, these are the Philippines’ National Artists for Literature. Which among them is your favorite? Whose works have you read or haven’t read yet (but planning to, soon)?
Happy National Arts Month!
- Nancy -
Valeros, Florentino B. & Gruenberg, Estrellita V. (1987). Filipino Writers in English. Quezon City, Philippines: New Day Publishers