November by any other name... | Inquirer Opinion
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November by any other name…

IF THE National Book Development Board (NBDB), a government agency attached to the Department of Education and created by Republic Act 8047 in 1995 were truly living up to its mandate of promoting and developing the book publishing industry, then it stands to reason that November should be one of its busiest months in the year.

For decades, the month has been associated with books and reading. President Manuel L. Quezon had a 1937 proclamation designating the third week of November as National Book Week. The tradition is still honored today but it has since gone beyond a weeklong celebration, for November was designated Library & Information Services Month through President Cory Aquino’s Proclamation 837 in 1991.

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President Joseph Estrada, through Proclamation 120 in 1999, designated June as Philippine Book Development Month from then on. The choice of June coincides with the birth of the NBDB on June 7, 1995.

The celebration of Philippine Book Month from June to November became official starting in 2008 through Proclamation 1436 by President Gloria Arroyo. This change was deemed imperative because of the low participation of schools in the celebration, with classes having just begun and both students and teachers still preoccupied with the major task of establishing routines and adjusting to a new academic year.

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November as National Reading Month was officially promulgated last year by Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, FSC, in DepEd Memorandum No. 244 s. 2011. This mandate is meant to rekindle the interest of the youth (and adults, too) in the many delights of reading. The circulated memo carried with it suggested activities for the schools to consider: Read-a-thon, Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) sessions, Big Brother/Big Sister, Kaklase Ko, Sagot Ko and other variations on the Shared Reading concept, special remedial classes for those on the frustration reading level, focusing on oral communication through the Five Words a Week/A Paragraph a Day/Library Hour a Week, and many other reading awareness programs.

The 2011 DepEd memo also highlights Nov. 27 as Araw ng Pagbasa (Reading Day) to honor Ninoy Aquino on his birthday by introducing his life to elementary and high school students and to impress on them the many writings that led to his heroism. This emanates from House Bill 3877 coauthored by Representatives Jorge Banal (3rd district, Quezon City) and Marlyn Primicias-Agabas (6th district, Pangasinan). HB 3877 was transmitted to the Senate last February.

Thus, November for the NBDB translates to three major highlights. Its third international literary festival for authors, publishers, literary agents, teachers, students and all other readers will be held on Nov. 14-16 at the Ayala Museum. There will be demonstrations showcasing techniques in teaching literature in classrooms. It’s teasingly called “Read Lit District” to call attention to the sensory and sensual pleasures to be drawn from books. The genre in focus is poetry, and the special guest poet is Chris Abani, a Nigerian author imprisoned three times by the Nigerian government.

English playwright Harold Pinter describes Abani’s poetry as “the most naked … expression of prison life and torture.” Here’s a stanza: “The telephone never rings. Still you pick it up, smile into the static, the breath of those you’ve loved; long dead.” Abani is flying in from Antioch University in Los Angeles where he is associate professor for its MFA Creative Writing Program. Philippine literary personalities led by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera will speak at the workshops for the three-day event.

The week culminates in the 31st National Book Awards, an initiative of the Manila Critics Circle and the NBDB. There are categories for both the literary and nonliterary submissions to recognize the outstanding books published in the country in 2011, selected from 75 finalists. This will be held at the newly opened Old Senate wing of the National Museum, the stately 86-year-old neoclassic structure originally designed as a public library by American architect Ralph Harrington Doane and completed by the father of Philippine architecture, Juan Arellano. All bibliophiles are invited to attend.

A first this year is the Highly Recommended Supplementary Materials’ two-day exhibition of books that have been vetted by a distinguished group, NOTED, the organization of the Metrobank Outstanding Teachers. Included in the exhibition are the award-winning titles and finalists of the National Book Awards. Originally meant for the public school sector, it is now a teachers’ exhibition for all sectors as there are also daylong discussions and workshops.

Last October, the NBDB had Booklatan ng Bayan, a reading activity for public school teachers in Ilocos Norte. This month, teachers in the Taguig-Pateros school divisions will participate.

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No matter how one chooses to label the month of November, no matter the proclamation that one upholds, it all boils down to pushing an awareness and appreciation of that old-fashioned joy, books and reading. So call it what you wish, but just read.

For details on these events and to join the ongoing literary trivia contests, (with current bestsellers as “Casual Vacancy” as prizes, take note), do  visit the NBDB website: http://nbdb.gov.ph

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: book publishing industry, column, National Book Development Board, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Reading
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