The writers I have known
It was from our literature subject in high school that I had my first acquaintance with writers. They were the great ones like Shakespeare, Longfellow, Wordsworth, John Keats, Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Gray, Charles Dickens, and many others. I was deeply inspired by the lofty thoughts on life and beautiful language in their writings. Even now in my bonus years I can still quote memorable lines from their works, especially their poetry. I can also recite stanzas from Rizal’s “My Last Farewell,” the English translation of his swan song “Mi Ultimo Adios.” I am comforted by the valuable quotations I learned from the Psalms, proverbs and gospels of the Holy Bible. Besides “Lupang Hinirang” and “Bayan Ko,” the only Tagalog verses I know are some folk songs, proverbs and three lines from Francisco Baltazar Balagtas’ masterpiece “Florante at Laura.”
Most of the writers I have known were potential writers when I first met them. Jim Austria, considered by some authorities as the greatest Filipino woman writer of her time, was one of “the gang,” as our set of close friends at the University of the Philippines called ourselves. She and her husband, Armando Manalo, also a remarkable writer, were with the Philippine Embassy in New York until her untimely demise. Mario Chanco, an outstanding journalist, was my classmate in English 2 under our lovely professor, Nelly X. Burgos. He married a nurse, my classmate in the Philippine General Hospital School of Nursing during the Japanese Occupation. She was the beauty of our class and Mao couldn’t help raving about her beauty in his writings. Our class often held our reunions in their well-appointed house in Talayan Village.
Nina Estrada, author of “Heart of Clay,” a passionate and lyrical collection of love sonnets, was my classmate and seatmate in American literature. She was a very popular campus figure but she had no airs.
Lilia Villa was the author of “Educating Josefina,” a play that was included in Jean Edades’ “Book of Plays” and noted in “Philippine Literature,” a textbook on the subject in college. She was a faculty member of UP, and my friend and neighbor until she left for the United States.
Cesar Adib Majul, author of the celebrated biography of Apolinario Mabini, was my classmate in one of my graduate subjects although he was still an undergraduate. We used to take the same ride going home as we both lived in Pasay. He would sometimes walk me home from the corner of our street because he knew some of our neighbors, one of whom was Rafael Z. da Costa, author of “Like the Molave,” a collection of poems that won the Commonwealth Award for Poetry in 1940.
Very few knew that the multiawarded writer Kerima Polotan-Tuvera wanted to be a nurse. We were together in the PGH School of Nursing. She did not pursue nursing, however, because she did not return to the school after classes were disrupted again during the war of liberation.
I knew Virginia Moreno, renowned poet and dramatist, during the early postwar UP days. Some of her poems were included in Jose Garcia Villa’s acclaimed “Doveglion” book of poetry. The last time I saw her was at a reunion of the UP Survivors’ Club at the Manila Polo Club. I was seated beside her and she showed around our table a picture of her ancestral home. It was a big, antique, but well-preserved.
Rosalinda Orosa, Philippine Star columnist, is the sister of my close friend, Helen O. del Rosario. She has received several awards for her literary achievements from France, Germany and Spain.
Lin Acacio Flores is an award-winning writer of stories for children. Among her awards are the Carlos Palanca Award and a US award in a short story contest in the Parker Pen Honolulu Magazine. She is close to family.
I.V. Mallari, well-known essayist and art critic, was a friend of “the gang.” He was the head of the UP Business Library as well as a professor. He would sometimes treat us to coffee and merienda at Taza de Oro, his favorite place.
Lope K. Santos, author of the powerful social novel “Banaag at Sikat,” was my professor in Tagalog. He was the most relaxed professor I have ever known. He was always smiling and playing with his mustache as he conducted the class.
Buenaventura Medina Jr., a Palanca awardee and coauthor of “Philippine Literature,” was my coprofessor at Far Eastern University College of Education.
I feel very privileged that I was able to bask in the literary aura of National Artist for Literature NVM Gonzalez to my heart’s content. His wife, Narita, was my friend from prewar UP days. When I went to visit my sister and family in California in the United States, I found out that she and Narita had become friends because of their involvement in church activities. When Narita learned that I was there, she graciously invited my sister, her husband, a mutual friend and me to lunch at their place in Hayward, where NVM was a visiting professor in Hayward University. After lunch, NVM entertained us with a violin-concerto which he himself composed. Curiously, I asked him if his violin was a Stradivarius. It was!
Back in the Philippines, I was again invited to their house at UP Diliman for lunch with another mutual friend. We spent a very pleasant afternoon enjoying their amenities and beautiful garden.
Two veteran journalists, Armando Malay (former UP dean of student affairs) and Teddy Benigno (press secretary of President Cory Aquino and former bureau chief of Agence France Presse), are family.
When I come across the names of the writers I have known in the news and in the obituaries, I remember my past close associations with them and feel great.
Virginia B. Malay, 92, is a retired professor. She is now involved in church activities.
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.