LITERATURES marginalized from the Philippine canon were the focus of the 51st Philippine PEN (Poets and Playwrights, Essayists and Novelists) annual conference held last December 5 and 6 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The congress was supported by the Varsitarian and featured UST Rector Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, O.P., who delivered the important annual Jose Rizal Lecture.

Speaking on this year’s theme, “Literature from the Margins: Changes in the Literary Canon,” the congress’s keynote speaker Resil Mojares, who has just retired from teaching at the University of San Carlos in Cebu, described the unconventional forms of literature in the country as the “margin” that is “a good place to be in,” like “local literature which is presently going mainstream”—mainly produced and circulated outside Manila. According to Mojares, as with others, he too has felt as if he had traveled from the margins (Visayas) to the center (Manila) — as a writer.

For Mojares, an internationally renowned scholar and six-time recipient of the National Book Award, recognizing and building on the advantages of the writer’s location is vital, as it is clearly a resource for literature.

Citing Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem, which won the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize, Mojares explained that a good place and atmosphere also add craft and imagination to a literary work. Wolf Totem, which took six years to write after Rong spent 10 years in Mongolia, is about life in the Mongolian grasslands during the communist cultural revolution and tells of the stress and strain between the nomads and the people who have long dwelled in the area.

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Mojares stressed that the writer should take a stance. Orientation, pertaining to the nature of the literary work, is also vital as this shows “what direction one is turned; not just where one stands”.

“We have looked at America and Europe for fashion and art influences, but we need to look wider south, geographically and culturally,” said Mojares.

During the several writers’ sessions, Lualhati Abreu recounted the struggle she faced in Mindanao in 1988 when all her companions in the communist underground were killed. She related how she faced opposition even from the time she had been planning to write her terrifying experience, in her creative non-fiction autobiography, “Agaw Dilim, Agaw Liwanag,” which won a UP Centennial Award last year.

“Journalists and military people put themselves in danger when fighting for the truth, so why should writers not do the same?” Abreu asked.

Axel Pinpin recounted his incarcertation as a dissident and said writers should not be afraid to speak for the truth. A poet, Pinpin was part of the Tagaytay 5, who were detained by the military for allegedly having links with the communists and ordered released by the courts in 2007.

Poet Ronald Baytan said despite the great amount of “gay” or homosexual literature, the genre remains invisible.

“Gay writings have always been part of the canon but they have never been read as such,” he said. For a literary work to be considered as gay, he said, the writer is gay, the literary work’s theme is homosexuality (“gay-tensed”), or the gay theme is utilized as a literary strategy.

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Playwright Malou Jacob stressed the importance of research in writing.

“The quality of research determines the quality of a play,” Jacob said, adding that the kind of research needed is not an intellectual research but an objective kind. Exposure means that the writer should try as much as possible to live the life of his literary subject.

Even works that are part of the literary canon may be marginalized. National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera talked about his efforts to adpat Lope K. Santos’ “Banaag at Sikat,” a classic of Tagalog fiction, into a play to popularize it.

“Knowing that very few people had read the novel, I decided that it needs to be rendered in a form that would make accessible to young people what the novel is about,” Lumbera said.

The power of the Internet should be utilized to traffic works that may not be part of the canon, said Luna Sica. She explained said that online blogging has helped her reach the younger generations. . Sicat has won the Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award in 2005 for her novel, Makinilyang Altar. Edilyn Ruth U. Yu

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