The Varsitarian, student publication of the University of Sto. Tomas, threw a big 85th anniversary bash for staff alumni at the Sofitel Hotel last Saturday night, capped by a beautiful fireworks display beside Manila Bay. The V has the right to be proud of itself for having survived 85 years of trials and tribulations, including a world war and an enemy occupation, martial law and two revolutions. It is now not only older than most campus publications in the country, and V alumni now occupy important positions in print, radio, television and advertising. Three of them are now National Artists—two for Literature (F. Sionil Jose and Bienvenido Lumbera) and one for Art (J. Elizalde Navarro).
True to the tradition of the press, the V was courageous and always sought and stuck to the truth, even risking punishment by lampooning the UST administration. But I think among all campus papers, the V excelled in the literary field. It used to have a separate magazine for literary works. It had literary contests every year for short stories, essays, poetry and plays, which later became the Rector’s Literary Awards, and still later the Gawad Ustetika, which added a “Pilipino” category in the short story, essay, and poetry writing contests.
When I was the V’s literary editor, I launched the Varsitarian Literary Quarterly, which published fiction, poetry, essays and literary criticism by professors, students and alumni. NVM Gonzalez’s “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam” was first published there. The story was later published as a book. Unfortunately, the Varsitarian Literary Quarterly was discontinued after I graduated. I think it should be revived. There is now no outlet for the literary output of Filipino writers, except one or two magazines—I can’t even remember which ones.
Yet the V and UST are sitting on a treasure trove of literary gems. The UST Press publishes books by professors and alumni, mostly on academic and scientific subjects. Why doesn’t it publish a book of these literary gems?
As part of the anniversary celebrations of both the V and UST (85 years for the V and 400 years for UST), I propose that they publish a book titled, “The Best of the Varsitarian.” It will be an anthology of the winners in the annual V Literary Contests, the Rector’s Literary Awards, and the Gawad Ustetika. The Palanca Memorial Awards publishes the winners in its annual literary contests, why not UST and the V? Many of the winners in the V Literary Contests have blossomed into the nation’s leading literary lights. (Witness the two National Artists for Literature—Jose and Lumbera. A third National Artist for Literature, NVM Gonzalez, was also a professor on the short story craft in Philets, UST.)
I understand the V Literary Magazine was revived, briefly, and a literary folio of winning entries to the V Literary Contests was published. Why not a more permanent book?
I confess I am biased for the V because I was once its literary editor and because I was able to finish college with the help of the V. I wrote a piece on that for the special edition of the V, which is called “Amihan,” for the anniversary celebration—and I am repeating here some of what I wrote there.
Yes, the V helped me finish a journalism course (Litt. B) at UST. Without it, I probably would have dropped out, as I would not have been able to afford the expense. I was a working student—although I had no regular job yet. I supported myself by freelancing for national magazines.
As a high school student at St. James Academy in Malabon, run by the Maryknoll Sisters, I started writing short stories and poetry. My literature teacher, Sr. Stephen Marie, encouraged me to write. She was the one who encouraged me to take up journalism at UST.
While still in St. James, I wrote a short story on the Hukbalahap rebellion then raging in Central Luzon. It was about a farmer whom the Huks tried to recruit. The farmer refused; he just wanted to be left alone to cultivate his small farm to support his family. The Huks finally shot him in the back while he was plowing his field. The final paragraphs described how he felt, what went through his mind as blood and life ebbed out of him.
I submitted it to the Philippines Free Press while I was still in high school, but I was already a freshman at the UST Faculty of Philosophy and Letters when it was published. For that story, I was paid by the Free Press the handsome amount of P50.
The amount of P50 is almost nothing today (it can hardly pay for one hamburger sandwich at a fast-food chain) but at that time, in the mid-1950s, it was a huge amount. Consider this for comparison: At that time, outstanding painters like Carlos V. Francisco and Vicente Manansala were paid only P50 for painting covers for This Week, Sunday Magazine of the Manila Chronicle. When I interviewed Fernando Amorsolo at his house on España Extension, Quezon City, he was selling several of his small oil landscape studies for only P50 each, but I could not afford to buy even one. All three painters are now National Artists and their paintings are now worth hundreds of thousands of pesos.
Anyway, when the V announced its literary contests, I submitted my short story titled “To Work in Peace,” and it won second prize. I won, if memory serves me right, P100.
Encouraged by that win, I submitted three entries to the V literary contests the next year: two short stories and one essay. All of them won—first prizes for one short story and the essay, and a third prize for the other short story. I won a total of P550 in prize money! It was like winning a minor prize at the lotto today.
(To be continued)