Discovering regional literature | Inquirer Opinion

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Coming like a breath of fresh air amid all the news of natural calamities, countless citizens coping with the aftermath, and prevailing frustration over the absence of a more pro-active, concerned bureaucracy are the tireless efforts of various institutions reminding us that it is National Reading Month. There is still much to celebrate, especially in these times when we turn to reading for solace, for comfort, for distraction.

I am especially impressed with the efforts of publishing houses outside Metro Manila, because they show with much pride the richness of their culture, their language, their literature that the rest of us know very little about.

Early in November, Noel de Leon of Iloilo’s Kasingkasing Press, Hubon Manunulat, Book Latté invited me to the opening of the virtual Iloilo Mega Book Fair, a formidable and ambitious name for a book fair that seemed to announce to one and all that it was an event no virus and no pandemic could discourage. Plus, its tagline was that Iloilo is a city built on books—and why not? One’s reach must exceed one’s grasp.

Kasingkasing Press began in 2015 as an independent publishing house and online bookstore committed to promoting Western Visayan literature. “Kasingkasing” is not only a melodious name, it also means “spunk, the quality of spirit that enables one to face danger or pain without any manifestation of fear.” What an apt name—and look at how far it has gone. It is a participating publisher—along with Hubon Manunulat, Book Latté, Palabasalibro, Books4Books, and St. Anthony’s College—at the ongoing online Manila International Book Fair, and has a scheduled Grand eBook launch of 40 new titles in Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Aklanon, Filipino, and English.

Aside from novelist Magdalena Jalandoni and National Artist for Literature Ramon L. Musones, much remains to be discovered and appreciated in Western Visayan literature. The workshops during the bookfair were all in Hiligaynon or Kinaray-a, to the exclusion of Filipino speakers like me. But a laudable and proud move, nonetheless. The keynote of Hazel P. Villa of Silliman University and West Visayas State University on “The Uncanny and Accursed Sea: The Waterlore of Guimaras” was a fascinating introduction.

Another provincial press and an independent bookstore promoting regional richness are the Ateneo de Naga University Press and the Savage Mind Bookstore. No time has been lost during the pandemic as titles in Bikol have continued to pour out, and they have even embarked on an ambitious “Himati” (“sensing, a deep feeling”) audiovisual project of Bikol poetry read by popular authors and celebrities. A wonderful teaching tool that the Department of Education is adopting; if the modular worksheets will not inspire reading and the love for words, these short recordings certainly will. Spearheaded by writers Kristian Cordero, Tito Valiente, and Fr. Wilmer Tria, this and other initiatives have drawn support from different embassies. Aside from the first publishing collaboration with former Czech ambassador Jaroslav Olsa Jr., Naga was also the first venue of the Bersong Euro-Pinoy of the European Community, a poetry recital of Bikol and European poets.

In the works is a partnership with the Philippine-Italian Association on a Pinokyo Film Festival (Father Tria has a Bikol translation of Collodi’s “Pinocchio”), a translation of Italo Calvino, a celebration of Enrico Caruso and Gualberto Manlagñit, and an Italian writer who wrote adventure tales that included the Philippines in books published in 1897 and 1901. It’s always a welcome development for regional literature to merit international attention, and for us to discover how the Philippines had been depicted in books from another time.

Another noteworthy literary project coordinated by writer and professor Ralph Semino Galán is USTingan, a semestral program of the University of Santo Tomas Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies, featuring forums or informal discussions on Philippine literature and popular culture. This represents another boost for contemporary regional writing, with speakers Jaime An Lim on Mindanao Literature, Hope Sabanpan-Yu on Cebuano Literature, and John Iremil Teodoro on Hiligaynon Literature.

It is commendable that Primetrade Asia’s 40th Manila International Book Fair is ongoing. Despite the usual worries about internet reliability for its back-to-back literary forums and literary festivals, it remains a much-awaited event for booklovers. That it has taken off virtually—moved from the usual September date to November because of the new planning that organizers Tinette Capistrano and Irene Lloren have had to make—is a feat in itself. “Read and Reimagine” is the theme that the event’s partner, the Book Development Association of the Philippines, has chosen.

Oh, to be able to boast that the Philippines is a reading and writing country—and to manifest it in our quality of life and international assessments.


Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and former chair of the National Book Development Board.

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