The Learning curve

An evening for authors and patrons

The National Book Awards (NBA) every November is a much-awaited event in the literary community. Founded in 1981 by Isagani R. Cruz who began the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) which has faithfully staged yearly awards since then, the NBA has been institutionalized through its partnership with the National Book Development Board (NBDB) since 2008. It’s an exemplary tradition that has to be continued. Today chaired by professor and writer Ruel S. De Vera, it continues the tradition of recognizing excellence in Philippine literature and book publishing. This year, MCC and the indefatigable NBDB team of Deborah Nieto, Abi Maguddayao, Lara Manalese, Angeli Narvaez, Maia Jacob and Mea Gumawa made the 38th awards night a star-studded one.

For me, there were many other stars that needed to be acknowledged that night, although they would rather that there be no fanfare. But they have joined me in recognizing the need to honor our authors in more tangible ways other than the lovely trophy designed by former NBDB artist Apolinario (Apokovski) Aquino Jr., a certificate and an all too modest and embarrassing token of P15,000. I detest any form of solicitation, but there was no arguing that authors who, by the power of their pen and their words contribute to the lasting legacy of a nation and a people and nurture our pride as a people, deserve more.


Is there any way to measure or reward that work? Is there any way to adequately compensate them for all the hard work that go into the writing of an award-winning book? Harder to do when they, dreamers and idealists as they are, expect nothing in return for the exercise of their art and passion but to reach out to readers. (Suddenly I am overcome with angry thoughts at politicians and the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Commission on Audit being overly strict with paltry budgets like NBDB’s. It seems so much easier to be corrupt than compliant.)

For many years now, there have been a handful of special prizes—an additional cash prize for specific categories, independent of what the MCC-NBDB gives: the Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize for Best Book on Art, the Philippine Literary Arts Council Prize for Best Book of Poetry in English, the Elfren S. Cruz Prize for Best Book in the Social Sciences, the John C. Kaw Prize for Best Book in History, the Gerardo P. Cabochan Prize for Best Book of Short Fiction in Filipino, the Cirilo F. Bautista Prize for Best Book of Short Fiction in English, the Pablo A. Tan Prize for Best Book of Nonfiction Prose in English, and the Victorio C. Valledor Prize for Best Book of Poetry in Filipino.


This year, a similar request was made to businessmen—respected CEOs all—who positively responded and understood the need for the literary artists to be acknowledged and recognized. Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. immediately had Phinma Foundation sponsor the Best Anthology in Filipino Prize. Chito Francisco was traveling, but was happy to sponsor the Jesus P. Francisco Prize for Best Book on Professions. Mike Valencia wanted to honor his late mother, an English literature major, with the Chony Castillo Valencia Prize for Literary Criticism/Literary History in English. Peter D. Garrucho Jr. donated the special award for the Best Book in Journalism.

The unstinting support of these sponsors is an eloquent testimony to the value of writers and their works. As well-known writer Butch Dalisay wrote in his recent book, “Why Words Matter: Why We Read and Why We Write”: “Words have power, words have consequences… Words are the songs we sing to our loved and lost ones. Words are the prayers we lift up to the skies… Words are all that some of us—especially those whom we call writers—will leave behind.”

The season’s happy news is the participation of our new sponsors. The not-too-happy news is that there are still a few more categories in need of sponsors: Novel in English and in Filipino, Nonfiction Prose in Filipino, Essays in Filipino, Anthology in English, Graphic Literature, Food, Translated Book, Science, Book Design. I am confident these categories will be spoken for soon. It’s never too early to plan for the 39th National Book Awards in November 2020.

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: Isagani R. Cruz, Manila Critics Circle, National Book Awards (NBA)
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