Coroza: Lone Thomasian ranger in 58th Palanca rites. Photo by Paul Allyson R. QuiambaoNo UST student figured in the winning column of this year’s Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, which serves as a barometer of the state of literary excellence not only in the writing profession but on campuses as well.

“It isn’t a good thing that not one (student) from UST won this year,” SEA Write Award recipient and UST alumnus Michael Coroza told the Varsitarian. He was the only Thomasian winner who attended the awards night at the Manila Peninsula last September 1.

There were no UST student-winners this year, a far cry from the previous years when Thomasians still in their undergraduate studies or barely out of graduation won the Palanca, such as Maria Francezca Kwe, who was a senior Journalism student in 2003 when she won third prize for her short story, “Closed Doors”; and Angelo Suarez, who had just graduated with an AB Literature degree in 2003 when he won second prize for his poetry collection, “Exploratoria,” and the following year when he won third prize for “Else It Was Purely Girls.” (Suarez remains a student; he’s taking up his Master’s at the UST Graduate School.)

Asked about UST students’ meager participation in the country’s premier literary derby, Thomasian Writers Guild (TWG) president Gisella Marcelang said that student writers did not feel compelled to join.

TWG is a university-wide organization of creative writers.

But UST writer-in-residence Ophelia Dimalanta said that the low Thomasian alumni and student participation in Palanca should instead be welcomed. She explained that this indicates that UST writers are more careful, that they are not just writing because they want to join the Palanca.

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“The better the writer, the less in a hurry he will be in joining,” Dimalanta told the Varsitarian.

She said she knows of many good student writers in UST who did not join. She explained writing a good work involves writing and revising, it involves hard work and dedication.

“Students can join in their own good time and the University will do its best to help them sharpen their skills,” she said.

Coroza advised aspiring writers to be competitive even at a young age.

“You should join while you are young,” said Coroza, who first joined the Palanca a year after his graduation from UST in 1991. The former Varsitarian Filipino editor has already bagged six Palanca Awards.

Dimalanta said the low turnout of Thomasian winners in the Palanca this year should not be faulted at UST.

“Do not think that winning a Palanca is the be-all and end-all of literary ambition,” Dimalanta told the Varsitarian. “Although young writers would feel good having a Palanca Award tucked in their name, don’t think that UST’s creativity is waning. It (Palanca Award) is not the yardstick of good literature.”

Dimalanta herself has won Palanca awards.

But the dissolution this semester of the Center for Creative Writing and Studies (CCWS) came as a big blow to UST student and Thomasian writers, Marcelang said. The center used to assist the TWG in training student writers.

“With TWG being recognized again (as a student organization) this year, it is disappointing that the CCWS was pulled out. Now, TWG is again on its own,” Marcelang said.

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In lieu of the dissolved CCWS, the office of the writer-in-residence is holding writing workshops for students and faculty. It is holding a seminar on fiction-writing next month.

Thomasian winners

Although there were no UST student-winners in this year’s Palanca, UST alumni-writers still won and reaffirmed Thomasian literary glory.

UST Pharmacy alumna and award-winning scriptwriter Michiko Yamamoto won first prize along with co-writer Emmanuel De la Cruz for the screenplay, “1434456 The Singalong Singhs,” about a migrant Indian family living in Manila’s Singalong district.

“This (1434456 The Singalong Singhs) is about two cultures interacting—Filipino and Indian neighbors. We always have stories about the Filipino-Chinese and the Spanish, but the Indians have been with us for about 300 years and we still know little about them,” De la Cruz explained.

Coroza’s essay, “Ang Mabuhay Singers at Ako sa Pag-Awit at Pag-ibig,” won second prize.

“The Mabuhay Singers is on its 50th year and my work is a tribute to them,” Coroza said. “It is also my way of explaining why I like the music that I like—kundiman and palitaw.”

Meanwhile, UP College of Arts and Letters assistant dean and former Varsitarian writer Jose Wendell Capili described this year’s entries as “very promising”. “Young writers today are concerned not only in writing well but also representing their medium and the concerns of their generation,” he told the Varsitarian.

Capili was the chairman of the board of judges in the children’s essay category. E.R.U. Yu

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