In the classic tales told by Scheherazade, the cities of Basrah and Baghdad are not merely the hub of commercial enterprise but also of literary enlivenment.
Strangers gather to barter for tales of marvel and adventures. A diversity of the populace—from tailor to steward, from barber to broker, from Moslem to Christian to Jew, and even hunchbacks—would try to top each other’s stories. At the royal palace, the king is an avid listener.
The most enthralling of stories is inscribed on parchment in gold letters, and the tellers of tales are garbed with robes of honor. Such is the value given to the art of storytelling.
In the Philippine contemporary realm, it is a cause for jubilation when the Taboan Awards were established in 2010 to acclaim the writers who have made significant contribution to literary and cultural development in their region.
The Taboan Writers Festival is part of the Philippine International Arts Festival, organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
This year’s Taboan—a “marketplace” for creative and critical exchange—was held in Davao City on Feb. 10-12. NCCA Commissioner Ricardo de Ungria served as festival director.
The 2011 Taboan Awards gave recognition to writers based in Davao and Mindanao.
The recipients were: Saturnino Apoyon, Tita Lacambra-Ayala, Herculano Borneo Sr., Guillermo Dagohoy, Aida Rivera-Ford, Agustin “Don” Pagusara Jr., and Justo Virtudazo (aka Raul Acas). The award was a gold-colored, kulintang-shaped plaque.
Excerpts from the works of the awardees were performed by the LCB Performing Arts Center, Hikot-hungihong Art Collective, and other local performance groups.
Apoyon, Borneo, Dagohoy and Virtudazo have left indelible marks in the intellectual marketplace of Davaolandia, while Rivera-Ford, Pagusara and Lacambra-Ayala continue to excel in the literary and theatrical domain.
(Apoyon, former Davao bureau chief of Philippine News Agency and the first president of the Davao Writers Guild, met an untimely, tragic death. His body was found last May 24 on the shoreline of Governor Generoso town.)
In the festival’s conference, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera delivered the keynote address. He underscored the alternative role of literature in the formation of national consciousness (“kamalayang pambansa”).
Lumbera hailed the boom of regional writing in the 21st century, but voiced out his concern over the meager production of scholarship and criticism of works written in the regional languages.
Issues vital to the Philippine literary formation were raised in the succeeding panels and parallel sessions. These include: tradition and innovation, language, readership, literary viability. “Tradition and New” was the theme of the wordfeast.
Steven Patrick Fernandez, artistic director of Integrated Performance Arts Guild (Ipag), who chaired the panel on “Spirits of the Place: Local Myths and Folklore and Literature,” offered the term “transcreation”—a means for contemporary writers to appropriate indigenous materials and rework them into their present experience.
Telesforo S. Sungkit Jr., a lumad writer from Bukidnon, discussed the specificity of the Higaonon myth and his incorporation of such in his novel “Batbat Hi Udana” (The Story of Udan), which won the 2009 NCCA Writer’s Prize.
Randy Tacogdoy of Antique talked about his full-length musical variation of Panay folklore and his creative efforts to contemporarize the narrative and write in his mother tongue Kinaray-a.
The writers’ native language is beset by problem of readership. What publisher would dare publish a novel in Kinaray-a, or in Higaonon? Writers therefore have chosen to write and publish in the dominant language of the region, or of the country.
Panels such as “Spit and Polish: How to Sell Yourself in the Writing Market,” “Beyond Borders: Globalizing Local Writing,” “Ako ang Nagwagi!: Winning the Literary Contests” and “How to Be a Bestseller” served as a forum for the impoverished Filipino writers to dream big and to share tips on how to get there.
Indeed, art is birthed at great expense, and a writer needs to live to tell the tale.
Carljoe Javier, who has resorted to a remarkable style of indie-selling his geek-novel series, suggested that writers need to let go of the “bestseller” concept and aim for alternative markets. Both he and fictionist Vladimeir Gonzales agreed that their works were geared toward a specific community.
With his usual tongue-in-cheek tone, cultural critic and intellectual Rolando Tolentino pointed out the uneven relation between the writer’s romantic notion of book publishing and the sad reality of book sale.
He put emphasis on the “physicality” of the book as a writer’s “intellectual capital.”
Truly commendable is the Taboan’s endeavor to design sessions which respond to the needs of aspiring writers.
In the plenary session on “Platforms for Supporting Young Writers in the Regions,” Singapore-based Chris Mooney Singh and Savinder Kaur shared their experience in organizing poetry slam in Singapore and Malaysia.
Xu Xi, who directs the world’s first international low-residency MFA in Asia which specializes in Asian writing in English, introduced their writing program; while Commissioner De Ungria gave an overview of government agencies (e.g., NCCA), local writing groups, and institutions which had established grants, workshops, publication opportunities, contests and other literary activities in support of the local writing community.
“In for the Long Haul: Going for the Novel” was an exciting panel with a formidable four—Abdon “Jun” Balde, Alfred “Krip” Yuson, Rony Diaz and Xu Xi.
Balde delighted the audience with his charming redefinition of the short story and the novel.
Using “love-making” as his figurative structure, he described the short story as a quickie inside a public toilet (while people are lining up on the outside and the hubby of your partner, who is a police officer, waits at the corner; and the novel as a sensuous waiting-waltzing-and-wrestling scene in a MacArthur Suite.
Since retiring from his job as a civil engineer for 33 years, Balde has become one of the most productive Filipino fictionists.
“I transliterate—I tried to meld Tagalog and English,” said Diaz of his writing project, particularly “At War’s End,” the compelling first novel of his trilogy.
He remarked that he liked to “control” his narrative, aiming for an ending that summed up the whole story.
To Xu Xi, writing a novel was “a relationship— falling in love and handling a relationship,” while Yuson observed that the contemporary novel deployed more cinematic techniques and sectionalizing to hold the reader’s attention.
The literary festivities also showcased a book fair, mass book launch, literary readings and performances, and school visitation by writers.