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Nurturing our writers

This was the pragmatic businessman in Victorio C. Valledor, generous benefactor of the Premyo Valledor for Bikol Novel, speaking when he expressed initial disappointment at the number of entries during the competition’s first run last year. In total, there were about eight entries, with half of them eliminated because of  technicalities—missing the deadline despite a postponement, overlooking the required National Book Development Board registration as author, etc. (Don’t complain, not a bureaucratic hassle, needed for the agency’s much needed data-gathering and all for a measly P100 registration fee.)

But this year’s run of the contest promises a wider response. With Valledor’s roots in Catanduanes, he of course nurtures hopes that his provincemates will be encouraged to join.

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Not that the winners of the first Premyo Valledor did not fill us with such pride. Two were announced winners among the four shortlisted entries, a tie that the judges could not break. Thus, instead of one winner, two had to be declared: Jerome Mendoza Hipolito and Niles Jordan Breis.

Perhaps it is just as well that I, being from Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, understood nothing of the reading of the excerpts. But as usual, Ateneo de Naga University Press (Adnup) deputy director Kristian Cordero was right in his reassurance—his readers, professional actors Tess Consulta and Marc Felix, were so polished that I could not miss the mood of the readings. There was also the spontaneous positive response from the audience—what better test was there of the merits of the writer’s craft?

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Noteworthy were the writers speaking on their poetics beyond the usual grateful acknowledgments. Of these I had to request English translations from the authors, and it is admittedly my misfortune that particular nuances were certainly lost in translation.  Still, “diluted” as the translated texts may be, I am impressed by these authors’ words. Today, I focus on one winner.

Jerome Mendoza Hipolito’s novel was

a series of journal entries titled “Dyurnal

Intris,” those of a student writing his accounts of his daily classroom encounters. It is a structure that offers numerous possibilities as Hipolito, who hails from San Roque, Calabanga, Camarines Sur, plans to perhaps now write the journal entries of the teacher in this student’s life. It is a scenario he is familiar with as he teaches at Central Bicol State University of Agriculture-Calabanga.

He spoke of his initial difficulties writing this first novel, as it was poetry he had published in the past, with the National Commission for  Culture and the Arts’ Ubod series and as winner in the Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon.

It is commendable that one of the shortlisted winners, Marvin Davila Aquino, with his entry “Alunsina Kan Dagat,” is a student of Hipolito. Aquino, who came to know about the contest from his teacher, said he does not know the Alunsina of the Visayan creation myth; he only remembers that as a child, he was so enamored with a children’s book on Alunsina.

How then to write beyond the genre most familiar to him? Finding himself in the struggle to reconcile the brain and the heart, Hipolito knew he had to write a poet’s novel.  Finally overcoming the blank sheet, he resolved, “I will try to find the weight of the lightness,  depth of the shallow. I subscribed to Mario Vargas Llosa who believed that it is the world  that  gives the theme to the novelist, and that the novelist should be loyal to this theme so that he can write the novel as naturally as possible…”

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When one wonders about the value of pioneering competitions such as Premyo Valledor, there is validation in Hipolito’s words, that it does goad the writer to write. “I am so much blessed to be born at this time when Bikol literature is blooming. Publications of books are proliferating; thanks to the Adnup for being one of the forefronts of this development. There are book fairs, writers’ workshops like Saringsing Writers Workshops, literary contests. All these inspire writers to continue writing… I am not an individual, I am collective. I carry the names of the organizations that nurture the writer in me. These are Kabulig Bikol, Parasurat Bikolnon, The Writers Project, Premyo Valledor.”

Yes, our writers need nurturing.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: literature, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, nurturing, The Learning Curve, Valledor, Victorio C. Valledor, writer
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