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Ex Libris

The man who can’t stop writing

By: - Staff Writer
, / 06:51 PM March 03, 2012

It is a challenge to figure out exactly where to begin when it comes to telling the story of Ed Maranan. Quite curious, considering how the man is a pro when it comes to telling stories. Stories for adults and children, poetry, plays… he literally breathes them.  Even when he talks, the sentences slide and move from one story to another almost without gaps.

The guy is no slouch. Having written more than 30 books and won 33 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, more than anyone else in Palanca history, he was inducted into the Palanca Hall of Fame in 2000.  Maranan has won every literary award in the country—from the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards to the Philippine Board on Books for Young People-Salanga Writer’s Prize. He’s written two screenplays that made their way to the big screen, 1981’s “Kapitan Kidlat” and 1983’s “Hubad na Gubat.” Writing in both English and Filipino, this freelance writer has mastered multiple literary genres.

It’s safe to say that he is the single most prolific writer in the country today.  He is totally at peace with such reputation, savoring his constant immersion in the universe of words.

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Born Edgardo Barca Maranan on Nov. 7, 1946 in the barrio of Cupang in Bauan, Batangas, Maranan is the eldest of eight children of businessman Diego Maranan and homemaker Leonora Barca. In 1949, when he was 4, his family moved to the boomtown called Baguio and became among the first to occupy Baguio’s public market. “We lived there, too, so it was both shelter and shop,” he recalls.

Growing up in Baguio, Maranan was exposed to a multi-lingual environment—people around him spoke English, Ilocano and Tagalog—which he says played a part in his being a bilingual writer. While in grade 1 at St. Louis College, he began his long relationship with the written word, falling for Liwayway Magazine and the so-called Great Four of Atlas komiks: Tagalog Klasiks, Hiwaga, Pilipino and Espesyal. He found the English textbooks used by the Belgian missionaries interesting, full of Western fables and fairy tales. He learned to write essays with flair in grade school and graduated valedictorian of his elementary class.

But it was in high school that he really learned to write, starting with short stories, essays and poetry. “It helped that I was editor-in-chief of the publication,” he says with a smile. He would graduate salutatorian of his high school class.

It was also in high school that he heard stories about the great homesteads of Mindanao from his economics teachers and so Maranan made up his mind to take up agriculture at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and become a farmer. His father, however, already had plans laid out for him. Dreaming of a son who would be a diplomat, Diego Maranan had pre-enrolled him to take BA Foreign Service at UP Diliman and even reserved a slot for him at the Molave residence hall.

Fortunately, Maranan’s writing really picked up at Diliman, first at the Philippine Collegian and then later on at magazines like the Free Press and the Graphic. “When I was in high school, I wasn’t exposed to national writers,” he explains. “We weren’t even allowed to read the ’Noli’ or the ’Fili’ (’Noli Me Tangere’ and ’El Filibusterismo’) because ours was a Catholic school.”  After graduating from UP in 1967, he returned to Baguio to help out in the family’s woodcarving business.

In 1969, he began teaching political science at UP Diliman. He had by now become heavily involved in activism and when martial law was declared in 1972, he and his then wife Aida Santos had to go underground. He would be arrested in 1976 and spent two years as a political prisoner. Maranan later returned to UP to teach Philippine Studies at the Asian Center. In 1969, he began work on his Master’s degree in political science: he would finish the coursework but not the degree.

It was while he was at the Asian Center that he got to go to London in 1992 to study contemporary literature and modern literary theory. While in London, he discovered that there was a vacancy at the Philippine Embassy. He returned to the Philippines, applied for and filled up the position of foreign information officer, thus beginning his London sojourn, a time that nurtured the gift that came most naturally to him: his writing.

In 1971, Maranan won his first Palanca Award for a short story in Filipino called “Ipis sa Guhong Templo.” This began a very intense and productive time in his writing life.

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Maranan can write about anything it seems. Prior to being moved to Bicutan after being arrested in 1976, Maranan was held in Camp Crame with common criminals. The prison conditions and all he saw there he would transform into a play, “Ang Panahon ni Cristy,” which, of course, would go on to win First Prize for Full-Length Play in the 1978 Palanca Awards.

“It’s 90 percent of my life,” he says today of his writing habit. “There’s no other thing. I’m not into business.” He says that he finds himself challenged by contest announcements that motivate him to join, and that the Palanca was his yearly project.  He used to challenge himself to see how many Palanca categories he could enter.  Maranan has won multiple categories in the same year and, back when it was allowed, he would enter more than one entry in a single category, resulting in him winning more than one prize in the same category. He would win 22 Palancas in this period of his life. Talk about dominance.  But despite the acclaim, the man has remained grounded. “One need not win a literary competition to make a mark as a writer,” he says.

But that perspective changed in 1993, when Maranan found himself immersed in work at the Philippine Embassy in London. “When I was in London for 13 years, my creative writing suffered.  I was still joining the Palanca, but not as often as I would have wanted. I did not produce a single book. Had I stayed here and devoted myself to creative writing and teaching, I would probably have a greater output.”

You could say Maranan’s standards are too lofty, as in the years between 1993 and 2006, he still managed to win eight Palanca Awards, including two first prizes, but this was to him, a step back instead of forward. He could see the Philippine literary scene blossom from afar, producing a new generation of talents like Vim Nadera and Mike Coroza. “They were very good,” he recalls.

In 2006, after serving under three ambassadors, Maranan’s position at the Philippine Embassy was eliminated, and he came home after 13 years. Then, he got back to writing in a serious fashion.

He had kept a long list of things he wanted to write about while abroad; he keeps the lists in a small notebook he carries with him. Once back, he returned to winning Palancas and began producing one book after another, as if making up for lost time. He is now writing more than at any time in his life. “I think I have more time and there is that sense of desperation,” he says. “I’m 65, and I have various ailments, a lot of growing old pains. So this sense of mortality is kicking in, so my God, I have to produce in the time I have left.”

Aside from a collection of poems (“Passage: Poems 1983-2006,” which won him the National Book Award, Maranan has released a steady line of children’s books, with several from The Bookmark, Inc., (among them his Palanca-winning “Ang Babaeng Nanaginip na Siya’y Nakalilipad”) and a set of 12 from C&E Publishing dubbed “Hagdan sa Langit at Iba Pang Kuwentong Pambata.” He even writes a column for a daily and makes sure he writes at least one book a year.

But merely being prolific isn’t enough for Maranan. “It doesn’t really grab me. Prolific only means I’ve been writing a lot, but it doesn’t mean that I am changing the world or moving people. I’d rather be a very effective one book writer than a prolific writer. You write one ’Noli’ and one ’Fili’ and you are a hero forever. Someday I’d probably be known as someone profilic and influential. I’d rather be influential than prolific. I don’t feel I’m influential yet.”

Writing for children was a craft he discovered quite by accident. Back when he was on the run in the early years of martial law in the  1970s, he and his wife taught nursery and kindergarten in a barrio in Novaliches under assumed names. When the holiday season rolled in, he wrote a play in verse for the children to perform, something the kids did remarkably well with Maranan providing both props and musical accompaniment. “That’s when I realized I could write for children,” he says.

Many of the books he writes for children embody the essence of the causes he believes in. “Most of my children’s books are environmental in theme because I’ve been really concerned with the issue for the past few years,” he says. His NGO work and support of indigenous people has also found its way into his children’s books. “Through my books, I continue to push my advocacy.”

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Maranan’s creative process is that he writes everyday. He wakes up at 8 a.m. to switch on his Netbook and get some work done. Ideally, he’d like to start earlier, but he just can’t bring himself to sleep before 2 a.m.

So how does he keep his focus on writing?  His secret: No TV.  Seriously.

“When I was still in London, I wanted to write after office hours but the shows on British television were so good,” he recalls. “Grabe. Sometimes past midnight or even early morning, I would fall asleep and then just wake up when the stations stopped broadcasting. Because of television, I lost a lot of writing time. So when I went back to the Philippines, I swore I wouldn’t watch TV. I get my news and entertainment from radio, mostly AM.” Why, he doesn’t even have a TV  set at home.

His writing style is unorthodox as well.  When surfing the Internet and reading the papers, he cuts and pastes stories that he thinks he can write about, or jots them down in his ever-present notebook.  The ideas go into his cellphone when he’s out riding a cab. “I still believe that the primary stimulant and motivation for writing should be compelling issues and themes in the life of people, society, and nation.”

Not even physical injury could deter this writer. While covering two local festivals for a travel magazine last year, Maranan says he suffered a misalignment of his vertebra, which resulted in searing pain that struck whenever he tried to sit straight in a chair. It was sheer agony every time he tried to sit up and write.  “It didn’t stop me,” Maranan says, adding that he took painkillers and used liniment and strategically-placed cushions to prop him up. Thanks to some stretching exercises, he says it doesn’t hurt as much lately.

Solitude helps him concentrate as well. Maranan has two grown-up children: daughter Len Maranan-Golstein raises funds for an NGO in Washington state and son Diego Silang Maranan is working towards his MS at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Upon returning from London, Maranan worked briefly for an advertising agency and the Film Development Council of the Philippines, but found the long commutes from home too tedious and cut into his free time for creative writing.

Now a full-fledged freelance writer, he is never without a writing project or a commission, being a versatile author of anything and everything from biographies to corporate brochures. “It’s having little and big projects around all the time (that pays the bills),” he says.

As if he doesn’t have enough work on his hands, Maranan has a list of projects in the in the works.  He’s revising some of his earlier plays to be able to do more theater (“I like how you can see the audience’s reaction right away”), and has collected his essays for a book that’s due out soon. The essay collection, “The Country in the Heart: A Filipino Writer’s Times and Travels,” received (yes, another one) the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Writer’s Prize for the English Essay in 2008. Then there’s the biography of the slain botanist Leonard Co that he wants to do.  He also wants to complete a novel and write some epic poetry. Now that he is judging writers in the Palancas instead of defeating them, he is impressed by the brightness of the young writers.

Then there are the unfinished chapters of a life still being written. After all these years, Maranan is returning to school and is set to enroll at De La Salle University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Someday, when he’s had enough money and perhaps the energy to do it, he says he has another old dream to follow: “I’d like to buy a farm and become an organic farmer.”

Whatever else Maranan plans to do, you can be sure his words would capture these ideas and endeavors in prize-winning form. And it would be just another day in his yet unfolding life.  “I would say writing is my life. It’s not an addiction; it’s a necessity,” he says. •

SIDEBAR

The Write Stuff

Prolific and versatile wordsmith Ed Maranan on how to keep those ideas going and your words flowing

1. Be aware of, and be sensitive to, what is happening in your country and in the world. Read up on the themes and issues of our times: the environment and climate change, poverty and development, crime and conflict, politics and corruption, etc. This means reading the dailies, listening to the radio, watching the news and commentaries to stock up on materials for your writing.

2. Keep a journal or a diary that record your thoughts and ideas. Jot down notes, observations about life, impressions of places and people you meet, and reactions to day-to-day events. Again, they can become the source of future writing projects.

3. Read as often and as diversely as possible: literature and the arts, science and social science, articles and reviews. Less expensive is browsing the web for literature and history websites.

4. Write something every day, wherever you are. It could be a six-word, 55-word, 100-word short story (there are actually websites and competitions for these variant forms!), a short essay commenting on the issue of the day, or a short poem (a haiku or a tanaga). Re-read and revise what you have written. If you write in English, check out  manuals on writing good prose by Jose Carillo, Jose Dalisay, Cristina Hidalgo and other authors.

5. Do any or all of the following: join a writing workshop or a writers’ group, show your written work to friends, relatives or teachers and ask for their critique. Cross-register or audit in creative writing, literary history and theory classes, start a blog where your creative output can be read and judged by the public, participate in poetry readings and yes, you can put to the test what you’ve written by joining a literary competition: the Carlos Palanca, the Free Press and the Graphic, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, among many others.

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