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Creative writing centers call for more support

“It is [through] the arts that we can actually become globally competitive.”

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The disparity of institutional support between the sciences and the humanities was one of the pressing topics tackled during the forum on “The Literary Muse in Manila” last Oct. 5 at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex Auditorium.

During her opening remarks, Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, director of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (UST CCWLS), addressed these concerns by emphasizing the importance of the arts and the humanities in the academe.

“It is [through] the arts that we can actually become globally competitive,” Hidalgo said.

Similar issues on the current status of literature and creative writing in the different universities of Manila surfaced in the gathering of literature teachers, students, and literary enthusiasts from all over the country in the forum held in celebration of Taboan, the annual literary festival of the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Collaborations and engagement

De La Salle University Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center Director Dr. Shirley Lua stressed the need for research collaborations between fellows in centers.

Moreover, Lua encouraged more joint efforts with other universities and centers, even with fields and disciplines outside literature.

She said that multidisciplinary research is integral to “demystify” literature and open it as a medium for communication and dialogue between different disciplines.

Research was also the focus of Prof. Diego José Abad, program head of the Department of Literature and Humanities of the Far Eastern University (FEU), who mentioned the need to establish a “culture of research” not only within FEU, but with centers from other universities as well.

He continued that student organizations are also crucial in establishing engagement with the student body—citing FEU’s Literary Society and Literary Guild as key figures in revitalizing literature in their university.

‘Rethinking’ literature and coping with change

Lua, Abad, and Prof. Ralph Semino Galán, assistant director of the UST CCWLS, have suggested the introduction of new courses and literary materials in their respective curricula.

“What new courses [can we offer]? Do we consider [fanfiction], blogs, Wattpad, Facebook [posts] as new literary materials?” Lua asked, stating the need for more workshops on popular media such as flash fiction, graphic fiction, personal essays and even video games.

Galán said that a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing in UST was proposed last 2012, but the degree can only be offered by the University’s Faculty of Arts and Letters starting 2018 after the moratorium on the introduction of new courses following the implementation of the K-12 program.

Currently, the University only offers a master’s degree in Creative Writing.

With select General Education (GE) subjects such as World Literature and Philippine Literature moved to Senior High School, Galán and the CCWLS proposed to replace these GE subjects with Creative Writing subjects and Philippine Literary History.

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Meanwhile, Abad called for internships for FEU’s Literature program. He proposed working in publishing houses or freelance writing as internships for Literature majors in their university whom he described as “sheltered.” Abad is compelled that an OJT for the program would open more career paths for the students.

Dr. Jun Cruz Reyes, Jr., a fellow of the UP Institute of Creative Writing and senior adviser of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) Creative Writing Center, discussed writing style stereotypes of different universities as well as writing trends in millennial culture.

“Ang pumapatay sa mga panitikan ay ang mga manunulat mismo,” Reyes adds, as he emphasizes the need to be creative in teaching literature, especially in using a realistic and natural language as a medium of instruction and in writing.

Opening of new centers, funding, calls for support

FEU and the Philippine Normal University (PNU) currently do not have Creative Writing centers.

Prof. Ferdinand Jarin of PNU recounted his days in the Creative Writing club Bolpen at Papel (BAP) with Joselito Delos Reyes and Eros Atalia, which he described as a “guerilla organization” since it was not accredited by PNU.
Despite the lack of administrative recognition and budget, BAP was able to organize literary events and contests and even publish anthologies.

Nonetheless, Jarin recognized the need to formalize a Creative Writing center in PNU and offer a diploma program in Creative Writing with the purpose of training teachers in the instruction of literature and creative writing – which, he says, often ends up in discussions of mere “moral lessons” and vocabulary.

He hopes that the program would be finally implemented this semester.

Abad, meanwhile, points out a budgetary deficiency as a hindrance for FEU to establish a Creative Writing center.
He also noticed a consistently low enrollment rate in the Literature program and said that there may be a need for their department to offer new, “hipper” courses such as Gay Literature and Creative Nonfiction, as well as offer more Creative Writing courses, in order to attract more students to the program.

Lua also called for support for the humanities from university administrators, the government, funding agencies, legislators and even colleagues in other disciplines and sciences—and even more so, strengthening connections between the different Creative Writing centers in Manila in order to stimulate a strong literary culture in all schools and universities in the city.

“The Literary Muse in Manila” was organized by the UST CCWLS in conjunction with Taboan. Proceedings of the conference will be submitted to the NCCA and to the Commission for Higher Education. The annual festival opened last Sept. 14 at the Central Mindanao University, Bukidnon.

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Literary

Combat fake news through literature, urges critic, veteran journo

Quoting Palanca Award-winning writer Jose Dalisay Jr., renowned critic Rolando Tolentino upheld that “the best antidote to fake news is true fiction.”

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Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo/TomasinoWeb.

A veteran journalist and a renowned literary critic urged Thomasians yesterday to write more literature about current social issues to fight the rise of disinformation in the country.

Rolando Tolentino, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Creative Writing, said during this year’s Paz Latorena Memorial Lectures that writing short stories and poetry could help combat lies peddled by those in power.

Quoting Palanca Award-winning writer Jose Dalisay Jr., Tolentino upheld that “the best antidote to fake news is true fiction.”

“Paano mo maco-combat kung in-abdicate mo ‘yung role ng panitikan? Magsulat ng panitikan tungkol sa panahon na ‘to,” Tolentino affirmed.

With the advent of social media, Tolentino also lamented the distortion of “orality” of storytelling and the perception of reality but he maintained that literature “is a creative response to reality.”

He continued by stating that the role of literature in Philippine society is crucial as it serves as the country’s record of important historical events and social movements.

“Napakahalagang area [ng panitikan] sa kasaysayan natin, ito na ang chronicle natin,” he said.

He added: “Kaya natin napatunayan na may Martial Law, may Marcos dictatorship, may Spanish colonialism ay dahil sa mga matitigas [at] astig nating manunulat na nag-intervene sa panahon na ‘to.”

The former UP College of Mass Communication dean also stressed how “slow” writers are nowadays in publishing literary works that tackle issues current social issues.

“Wala na tayong poems na lumalabas, wala tayong short stories na lumalabag. […] May pagka-slow na ‘yung writers natin kasi ang pumapasok talaga are all these posts, mga commentaries [n]ila sa Facebook,” he said.

Meanwhile, veteran journalist and columnist Salvacion Espina-Varona called on writers to use literature to resist alienating pro-administration supporters.

“Alam natin kung bakit nanalo si Rodrigo Duterte [at hindi lamang ito dahil sa fake news but] because he does not exist in a vacuum: He is the sum total of rage passed from generation after generation,” Espina-Varona told the audience.

She also urged that a “real” way to battle lies is to become “truth-tellers,” telling them that safeguarding truth is not solely the role of journalists.

“Hindi pwedeng isang sektor lamang lipunan ang magiging guardians ng katotohanan sa mundo, hindi pwedeng journalists lang,” she said.

This month, Facebook began implementing strict measures against the proliferation of fake news, such as identifying links from legitimate news sites and blocking links from several websites identified to peddle false information.

The social media giant, meanwhile, on Thursday announced its partnership with online news agencies Rappler and Vera Files for a third-party fact-checking program in the country, which aims to prevent the spreading of fake news content on the social media platform.

Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque have protested the partnership, accusing Rappler and Vera Files of “partisanship.”

On Oct. 4 last year, the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media opened its first hearing on fake news, the first of its kind in the country. The committee concluded its second hearing last Jan. 30.

Bannered with the theme “Saysay ng Panitikan sa Panahon ng Fake News at Tokhang,” the yearly lecture is held in honor of Paz Latorena, an esteemed Filipina fictionist and former chair of the University’s Department of Literature.

The event concurs with the celebration of the National Literature Month. —with reports from P. Jamilla

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5 children’s books you should definitely read again

As we celebrate International Children’s Book Day, we take a look back on five children’s books whose lessons and tales remain true no matter when or how many times you read them.

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From novels to picture books, children’s literature from all genres were our gateways to other worlds and imaginary friends when we were young—and for some, these stories were their first taste of literature.

While people tend to dismiss books written for children when they grow old in favor of more serious literatures, it is undeniable that children’s literature shaped millions of childhoods all around the world and their timeless stories continue to influence the lives of people from all ages.

As we celebrate International Children’s Book Day, we take a look back on five children’s books whose lessons and tales remain true no matter when or how many times you read them.

 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is widely considered to be a hallmark of children’s literature and one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre, which has proven to be popular to both children and adults. The book’s narrative, peculiar characters and imagery have inspired various films, games and plays throughout the years, as well as various literary discourses and, ahem, mad theories about what the novel really is about, which serves as proof of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘s lasting legacy.

 

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Speaking of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy novel Coraline is often compared to the Lewis Carroll classic due to the two novels’ similar premises of a young female protagonist entering another world, but for a children’s novel, Coraline serves unexpected scares—especially in the idea of having better version of one’s family except that they have buttons for eyes. The book’s ideas may be too much for children, but reading it again after a few years reveals the beauty of the novel’s narrative and the timelessness of its horror.

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Tales of children being lost in other worlds is a common theme in children’s literature, but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe takes this trope to a higher notch with four English siblings crossing over to another world to fulfill their destiny of ending the icy rule of an evil witch. The novel—which C.S. Lewis wrote as the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia series—also incorporates allusions to Christian tradition such as Christ’s crucifixion. While these details may not be obvious to very young readers, a re-read of the novel and the entire series shows the complexity of Christian allusions and pagan influences in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which serves to show that children’s literature can have complex narratives rivaling “adult” novels and break the stigma surrounding children’s literature and the fantasy genre.

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The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

While the high fantasy of The Lord of the Rings proved to be the more influential work in the long run, its predecessor The Hobbit, which was written primarily for children, laid the foundations of the Middle-earth mythos which has come to define the fantasy genre. Nonetheless, the adventures of Bilbo Baggins remain a classic and a landmark of children’s literature—and the prelude to a greater epic.

 

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Le Petit Prince or the The Little Prince, as it is more known in translations, is just a simple and little book, yet poignant. While the story is generally a children’s book, its tale of the loss of childhood wonder and innocence has resonated and moved adults readers throughout the years, and perhaps, the book’s timeless message, despite its short length, is a testament that the essential is indeed invisible to the eye.

 

What are your favorite children’s books? Share them with us in the comments or by tagging TomasinoWeb on Twitter!

 

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Lullaby

I still sing this hymn
Not to drive my friends
Gone. I want you here.

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Art by Aijen Sy/TomasinoWeb.

Tonight, I sing this
Hymn for two, four, six
Ears. My breath to reach
Yawns of the dismissed.

Alone in the dark
Room flooded with an
Eerie presence that

Lurk close by. I feel
Isolated. Don’t
Stand too close. Don’t stare
Too long. Tenebrous,
Eidola. Figures
Nudging my sight. But
I still sing this hymn
Not to drive my friends
Gone. I want you here.

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