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Here’s to Philippine stories!

National Literature Month highlights the transformative power of literature


By Sara Grace C. Fojas
Image by Pinggot Zulueta

It started from the baybayin or the writing system of our ancestors who wrote on tree barks, bamboos, leaves, rocks, and metal, long before the Spaniards came. Then the Roman alphabet was introduced to us that paved way for the world to know about our awit (songs), bugtong (riddles), salawikain (proverbs), tula (poems), kuwento (stories), nobela (novels), and balagtasan (poetic competition).

Philippine literature has gone a long way, composed of various languages—from Spanish to Tagalog to Bisaya to English. It’s magnificent transformation produced the Doctrina Christiana, a prayer book written in Spanish, a book that is considered as the first book printed in the country in 1595; Ninay, the first Filipino novel written by Pedro Paterno; and Florante at Laura, and an epic written by the master of traditional Tagalog poetry Francisco Baltazar.

Ambassadors of Culture From left: National Youth Commission chairperson Aiza Seguerra, National Commission for Culture and the Arts Virgilio Almario, and National Book Development Board deputy executive director Anna Katarina Rodriguez

Ambassadors of Culture From left: National Youth Commission chairperson Aiza Seguerra, National Commission for Culture and the Arts Virgilio Almario, and National Book Development Board deputy executive director Anna Katarina Rodriguez

We created great literary masters like Jose Rizal and various National Artists of Literature like Jose Garcia Villa, F. Sionil Jose, and Virgilio Almario. Philippine literature has immensely grown through the years, and now more and more writers are being recognized. Those who have put out their works by means of a new tool—technology.

This coming April, National Literature Month, writers of the modern generation will be recognized and will be honed even more with the activities lined up for writers and poets and storytellers of all ages. The celebration is led by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) chairman Virgilio Almario, Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino executive director Rico Pableo Jr., and National Book Development Board Flor Marie Sta. Romana Cruz.

This is the third year that the nation is celebrating National Literature Month and this year’s theme is “Banyuhay,” the Filipino word for “metamorphosis” to emphasize that literature, 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 necessary changes.

The celebration will kick off on April 2 with the celebration of the 229th birth anniversary of Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar Day or Araw ni Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar. KWF is monumentalizing the way that he paved for national freedom with the theme “Balagtas: Bayani” (Balagtas: Hero) with a literary conference that will gather 100-student writers from all over the Philippines at Orion Elementary School in Orion, Bataan.

Outstanding writers will also be honored on April 2 with the conferment of the Gawad Dangal ni Balagtas and Talaang Ginto: Makata ng Taon.

“This year, our theme is ‘banyuhay,’ a coined word made of three syllables from the words ‘bagong anyo ng buhay,’ which means a new form of life. This coined word was created by writer Alejandro Jun Abadilla before the war. We chose this theme because we want to uplift the young literary writers and to give them the spotlight in this year’s celebration. This is the year that we discover the new faces of Philippine literature and to continue to let our literature grow, in different dialects and languages of our country,” says Almario.

For the Love of Literature

National Literature Month also presents and promotes the different aspects of reading and book publishing with its ambassador Cariza “Aiza” Seguerra, National Youth Commission chairperson.

The NBDB will hold the 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.

On April 23, various book-related activities will be held in celebration of World Book and Copyright Day (WBCD) to pay tribute to books and authors and to encourage more Filipinos to discover the pleasure of reading, whether from a book or an e-book. 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 various book clubs and writers’ groups.

 “Books or e-books? Why not both? Why not use these platforms to reach out to more people and encourage them to read? It’s about time that we spread the beauty of Philippine literature not only to those children in school but also to the out-of-school youth. They need to start somewhere and it is our responsibility in the government to provide them of the platform that they need. So this Literature Month, aside from promoting the traditional way of reading, let us also promote the new stories that the young people are creating today and the alternative ways of reading these creations,” says Seguerra.

There will also be workshops for writers such as the 2nd IWP Alumni Writers Workshop of Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center (BNSCWC) of De La Salle University and the 17th Iyas La Salle National Writers’ Workshop, both at the European Documentation Center of De La Salle University in Manila.

The panelists in the 2nd IWP Alumni Writers Workshop include Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta (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.

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 that deal with humanity and environment.

“One of our goals is to also introduce the regions their own literatures. Each region has its own great writers. We want to create monuments for these writers that people could see, get to know, and be proud of,” says Almario.

Aside from these, there are more events and activities that will make your summer a fulfilling and transformative one such as the “Spoken Word Poetry: Performance Forum” at the MSU-IIT in Iligan City on April 10 and 11, Forum on Creative Writing at the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City on April 15 and 16, and many more.

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