SELF-EFFACING and modest when he was alive, National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin was nevertheless a vibrant personality. His admirers and fellow writers know that. But it helps that a new book, NICK: A Portrait of the Artist Nick Joaquin (Anvil Publishing, 2011), puts that beautiful personality on record.

“He never wanted to see something written about him. He’s that shy,” said Tony Joaquin, the National Artist’s nephew and co-author (with Gloria Kismaldi) of the book, during the launching last July 6 at Powerbooks Greenbelt 4 in Makati.

The 149-page biography highlights Nicomedes ‘Nick” Joaquin’s childhood as a voracious reader who quit school, tried to become a Dominican priest, but left religious life to become an all-around writer, by general acclamation the greatest Philippine writer of the 20th century.

Coming from a well-off family, Joaquin was brought up in a disciplined and religiously devout manner. Having a lawyer-father and an English teacher-mother, he grew up with moral conviction and a passion for language.

Among the siblings, he was the shy-type and the least sociable. But his silence masked a bright mind and a forceful pen.

Unlike most children who are always into games and music, the young Joaquin spent his time in his father’s library and vicariously explored different worlds and met different personalities. His father gave him a borrower’s card to the National Library when he was 10. There he would voraciously read books. He would even smuggle food into the library to ensure his reading was not unnecessarily impeded.

He was not exactly academically proficient. He finished only second year at the V. Mapa High School. He never went to college, His Associate in Arts degree was a gift from the Dominicans.

Uncovering the truth, learning from the pros

Joaquin is known for romancing the stone of Intramuros. As a teenager, the book shows, he would constantly tour Intramuros, enamored by its rich history. Intramuros would later figure as the main trope of his works, whether in fiction, drama, poetry, or the essay.

Joaquin had planned to become a priest and in fact trained at the Dominican seminary in Hong Kong for one year. But the religious life was not for him so when he came back to Manila, he joined the Philippines Free Press and used the pen name Quijano de Manila.

He never married. He doted on his nephews, nieces and godchildren His nephews and nieces called him “Santa Clause” because he treated them to movies and showered them goodies

He also became a father figure to many writers. He abhorred sloppy writing, and at one time, made an aspiring writer cry and walk out because of his harsh comments on the poor fellow’s writing. From that time on, Joaquin, generally a kind person, refused to join writing workshops. But he continued to uphold high standards in writing.


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