Looking forward to literary month

September is literary month in the Philippines, when most literary contests hold their awarding ceremonies, but it’s in August when we get the latest news in letters. Here’s a roundup:

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The National Book Development Board and the Manila Critics Circle recently announced the finalists for this year’s National Book Awards.

According to the NBDB, the NBA “recognizes the best books written, designed, and published in the Philippines.”

Among the finalists of the 34th  National Book Awards this year are University of Santo Tomas professor Joselito de los Reyes for Essays in Filipino for “Istatus Nation” and Poetry for “Paubaya,” and University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication professor and former dean Rolando Tolentino for Anthology in Filipino for “Transfiksyon: Mga Kathang In-Transit.”

Also among the finalists in the various categories are Jun Cruz Reyes, Beverly Siy, J. Neil C. Garcia, Romulo P. Baquiran, Marne Kilates, Gemino Abad, Manix Abrera, and fellow 50th UP National Writers Workshop participants Genevieve Asenjo and John Iremil Teodoro.

The full list of NBA finalists may be viewed at the NBDB website.

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Among this year’s Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature winners are Hammed Bolotaolo (for short story in English) and Brylle Tabora (second prize in the Dulang Pampelikula category for “Sekyu”). Hammed is a previous Palanca winner for essay.

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Susan Lara is this year’s recipient of the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas for her body of work in English (katha sa Ingles).

The award is given to writers who have infused “life and energy” (nag-ukol ng buong buhay at lakas) into their efforts toward the promotion and upliftment of Philippine letters. 

 “This is a very special honor,” said Lara, “and I am truly grateful. An early birthday gift too, and one of the best ever.”

Lara is a Palanca Award winner for short story and a National Book Award winner for a collection of short stories. She devotes much of her time to advancing literature by serving as a panelist at writing workshops and as a judge in literary contests around the country.

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Joel Pablo Salud, editor-in-chief of Philippines Graphic magazine, has a new book of essays out – “The Chief is in The House”, under UST Publishing House and now available at their bookstore, and soon in the nationwide chains.

The tome is Salud’s third and his second collection of 50 non-fiction pieces. The range of subjects is vast, the issues are diverse, but, knowing the razor sharpness of Salud’s wit and insight, I’m sure he’s cut them down to size to present them from a fresh perspective.

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Manhattan-based Soho Press released internationally last month an expanded version of F. H. Batacan’s award-winning novel “Smaller and Smaller Circles” under its Soho Crime imprint.

In its original form, the book, published locally by UP Press, won the Palanca Award (Grand Prize for Novel), National Book Award, and Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award. It is considered the Philippines’ first crime novel and is required reading in college literature classes in at least one major university.

The international version of “Circles” is available in paperback from Fully Booked and also online from Amazon and other booksellers.

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On the biography front, books were recently released on the lives of the late Senator Raul Roco and Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson.

 “Arsenio H. Lacson of Manila” by Amador F. Brioso Jr. is a narrative crammed with interesting tidbits about Negros, collegiate football, the Julio Nalundasan murder, life during the Japanese occupation in 1941 to 1945, the story of a beauty queen from Leyte named Imelda Marcos, and more about sports, politics, and showbiz of the era.

“Honorary Woman: The Life of Raul S. Roco,” was launched at the Club Filipino last Aug. 5, Roco’s 10th  death anniversary.

The book was finished by columnist Conrado de Quiros in 2003. After Roco died in 2005, the manuscript, commissioned by writer Marily Orosa, was set aside, until she found it in her files in November last year.

This reminds me of another manuscript that’s moldering in a drawer or vault somewhere – a biography of the late Manila Mayor Ramon D. Bagatsing written by no less than National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin.

According to his son, former Manila congressman and now Philippine Racing Commission member Ramon S. Bagatsing Jr., he commissioned Joaquin to write the book years ago. Joaquin was able to gather first-hand information by interviewing the mayor himself.

I hope that Commissioner Bagatsing will consider dusting off the manuscript and sharing it with the public soon. It’s be interesting, not only as a story of the late mayor’s life and times, but also as the work of a national artist.


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