Writing to remember
Though April be, as the poet said, the cruelest month, in these parts it was also “Buwan ng Panitikang Filipino” or National Literature Month, when readers and writers gathered and took part in various activities to celebrate the Word. It’s a noteworthy endeavor, and the organizers as much as the participants deserve wide support, particularly in these times when the noble acts of reading and writing literature are taking a beating and books are in clear danger of extinction.
April was declared National Literature Month by dint of Presidential Proclamation No. 968 on Feb. 10, 2015. It was the birth month of the Philippines’ most important poet, Francisco Balagtas, whose masterpiece “Florante at Laura” is a mainstay of high school classes, and for whom a campaign is being waged toward his being declared a national hero. (Explaining the campaign, National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario says: The country has many national heroes, but not one who represented Philippine culture. We want the people, especially the government, to recognize how important culture is, how important literature is. … And our first candidate is Balagtas.)
Led by the National Book Development Board (NBDB), Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, and National Commission for Culture and the Arts, National Literature Month kicked off with the celebration of Balagtas Day in the poet’s hometown of Orion in Bataan; the activities included the aptly named writing camp “Kampo Balagtas,” forums, workshops, even a tertulya and a Pinoy Bookstore Tour.
During the month, leading educational institutions hosted their respective events in the provinces of Pampanga and Camarines Sur and the cities of Dapitan, Cebu and Bacolod. On April 23, World Book and Copyright Day was included in Instituto Cervantes’ Dia del Libro at the Ayala Triangle Gardens. The Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas gathered its members for its national writers congress yesterday at Ateneo de Manila University.
On April 28-29, the 7th Philippine International Literary Festival, with the theme “Against Forgetting,” was held at the QCX in Quezon Memorial Circle. According to NBDB chair Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, the festival was intended to “celebrate literature, not only as an arbiter to memory, but also as an active tool against the corruption of human liberty.” She added: “Our history, though woven from different narratives, is perforated along the margins. But literature fills in the gaps of our fragmented history by lending a voice to the thousands disenfranchised and the many who continue to struggle for their place in greater society.”
Poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction in all our languages: It is then about the necessity of writing, not merely to compose beautiful lines, but more importantly to reflect the society in which we live. Thus, writing becomes an act of remembering. Discussion sessions were titled “Retelling Stories and Untold Histories of Indigenous Groups,” “Truth from Tragedies,” “Letters to Young Poets,” “Writing for the World” and the provocative “Are Writers Free?”
The keynote speeches were delivered by Jo-Ann Maglipon, editor of the book “Not On Our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened. We Were There,” and the Chinese writer in exile Bei Ling. Memory spoke in the session of former political prisoners Pete Lacaba and Ericson Acosta with young participants. Filipino writers from all colors of the political spectrum as well as foreign guests discussed and shared. Braving the heat and humidity, students and lovers of the Word, young people often insulted by the pejorative description, “a generation that doesn’t read,” came and listened, sought autographs, posed for pictures, and engaged in brief conversations with the authors they admire.
Needless to say, the task of nation-building includes writing and reading. Writing the Filipino story necessitates being squarely “against forgetting.” As Cruz wrote, “we believe that the festival will demonstrate how individual and social memory as presented in the literary medium bear testimony in the court of our history.”
Indeed, it’s imperative to immerse the youth in the life of the mind. Books are troves for them to discover and mine, and thereafter to go back to for comfort, for more information, for validation, even for argument: When one measures personal experience against a book’s creed, it makes for a dynamic process of learning and praxis.
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