Bienvenido Lumbera, the great teacher
We know Bienvenido Lumbera as—and this is quite a litany—a consummate writer, scholar, poet, critic, dramatist, librettist, and, best of all, a nationalist. He was the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, the Creative Communication Arts in 1993, and the National Artist Award for Literature in 2006.
The recent nine-day Parangal that began immediately on the evening of the day Lumbera left us was heartwarming, and was a necessary ritual for those left behind heavy with grief. With each organization and institution he was affiliated with as evening sponsors, the nine days were seemingly not enough for all of them.
Lumbera as a teacher was the memory recalled over and over again. In fact, on his 80th birthday, he was honored by hundreds of students and fellow artists as the People’s Teacher and Artist at the University of the Philippines Diliman, in recognition of the decades he had dedicated to his work. The ceremony, cleverly called “Muy Bien! Guro at Artista ng Bayan,” was made especially memorable because Lumbera was playfully crowned with laurel leaves cast in metal, representing his significant contributions to Filipino culture, literature, and society.
Lumbera was patient and generous with his time with students, eager to lead them to explore new worlds. Students feared enrolling in his class, because while he was gentle and softspoken, one also got it if one did not do enough reading and critiquing. Filmmaker Sari Dalena, who sat in front of the class because she could not hear well and wanted to catch every word he was saying, was terrified when she was assigned to research on experimental films, a topic on which there was very little material. But look where it led her. Luna Sicat Cleto, award-winning writer, did not get excellent grades in Lumbera’s class, but his comments were inspiring and encouraging enough to lead her to where she is today. Soledad Reyes, well-known literary scholar and writer, was Lumbera’s teaching assistant, and today the authority on Macario Pineda and the Tagalog novel. It was Lumbera who suggested for her to “discover” Macario Pineda.
I was also fortunate to learn at his feet, though only for the comparative literature course. It was he who led me to my thesis subject, Casiano T. Calalang, one of the first Filipino writers, in the same generation as Loreto Paras Sulit and Paz Marquez Benitez who wrote short stories in their newly learned English. Lumbera was my original thesis adviser, until the onset of martial law. I finally completed my thesis after two babies, with my savior of a thesis mentor, Dr. Edna Zapanta Manlapaz.
I do not recall the critical theories discussed in class. It is really true that students remember their best teachers not for the curriculum they taught, but the lingering curiosity and love for learning they leave us with. My teacher, Bien Lumbera, left me with that—and a continuing appreciation for Philippine literature.
One more lasting contribution by Lumbera was his leaving us on Sept. 28. Truly the theater person that he was, that was the perfect day and the perfect time. As pointed out on Day 1 of the nine-day Parangal for him, the day had in a sense been salvaged—no longer as a day to be associated with the death of a dictator, but with that of a true hero, Bien Lumbera. One who is truly deserving to be in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Indeed, Lumbera had the last word.
A Sentro Lumbera, an online repository of his works and people’s tributes, photos, and memorabilia of him, will be launched on his 90th birthday on April 11, 2022. Send contributions to [email protected]/sentrolumbera04112022.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is the founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and was the former chair of the National Book Development Board.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.