Saturday, July 20, 2024

Literary Boot Camps


by Michael Aaron C. Gomez

Skill in most artistic forms is honed through observation, imitation, and education— this last one done mainly by apprenticeship, in much the same way as the Karate Kid training under Mr. Miyagi or other old-style master-student relationships in those martial arts films way back when. This is true for writing: maybe one of the most difficult artistic media to master, requiring much practice and even more patience. In fact, it may be the only form out there that never gets any easier, no matter how much experience and training one may have.
Not a lot of people know this currently, but Silliman has the richest and most prestigious literary tradition out of any school in the country.
Most—if not all—of the Philippine writers worth knowing and reading have passed through the portals of the university in one way or another, as a result, branding the entire city itself as the literary capital of the country. To drive home this point, the 5th Taboan Writers Festival held in the city last February called Dumaguete “The City of Literature” in its tagline.
Silliman even boasts of producing the first student literary folio in the country (way back in 1948): the nowdefunct Sands & Coral. Campus
writers used to be able to submit their works—be they poetry, fiction, plays, essays, or criticism—to the editors and then (hopefully) see
them published later in the school year. Students from all colleges and departments were free to submit their work, thereby promoting a healthy and inclusive literary scene in the campus.
Due to the absence of a folio, Sillimanian writers today are obliged to leapfrog the school scene straight onto the national audience
through the writers’ workshops that have cropped up over the last few decades—where, every summer, apprentice writers experience their baptism of fire, so to speak. Here the spotlight is shined on three of the main writers’ workshops in the Philippines.

IYAS National Writers Workshop Held at the University of St. La Salle right next door at Bacolod City, this workshop was founded by
a Silliman alumna, Elsa Martinez Coscolluela (the Palanca Hall of Famer whose play In My Father’s House was produced at Silliman last July), with the assistance of De La Salle University’s Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. This workshop lasts for one whole week—usually on the third week of April—and examines the fellows’ poetry and fiction and drama in these languages: English, Filipino, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a. Naturally, applicants come from all over the country, giving way for a truly cosmopolitan summer experience for
those accepted as fellows. And, yes, this has to be mentioned: the food in IYAS is absolutely namit.

Iligan National Writers Workshop This one was founded by a Silliman alumna—Christine Godinez-Ortega—is hosted by the Mindanao
State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, and is held usually on the third week of May. It is the only one of the three that rewards
fortunate fellows with a literary award—namely, the Jimmy Balaquit Award. There’s also the Boy Abunda Fellowship given to one of the yearly fellows (though this is only given to fellows from Eastern Visayas). One more thing about the workshop is that it accepts submissions in the most number of languages: English, Filipino, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray—just to name a few.

Silliman University National Writers Workshop This is the hardest one to write about, since everything that could be said about it could not fit a standard feature article—but anyway, for starters: the Silliman Writers Workshop is the oldest, the longest, and the most prestigious writers workshop in the country.  Founded in 1962 by Edilberto K. and Edith L. Tiempo, the three-week workshop—now held at the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village in Valencia, usually for much of May—has been the stepping stone for all of the established Philippine writers we know today: Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Bobby Flores-Villasis, Elsa Coscolluela are but a handful of the writers who have passed through this rite of literary initiation. And true enough, young writers today consider the Silliman Workshop to be the rite of passage into being part of the national literary community. Also, an interesting fact to consider is that the founders of both IYAS and Iligan are alumnae of this particular workshop.
While writing skill is enough, it also helps a young writer to get in touch with the tradition behind him and to get to know the people behind
that tradition—these workshops are the best way to achieve these things: and if one is from Silliman, it is more fulfilling on the whole. And, perhaps more importantly, there’s free food and travels for weeks over the summer—who wouldn’t like that ?


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