YEARS have passed since the last Thomasian copped a Palanca award. Does this echo the Thomasian’s dwindling fervor for writing?

It has been said that the annual Don Carlos Palanca Awards, the nation’s most celebrated literary derby, is the “barometer” of literary excellence. Biases aside, Filipino literature will not flourish through the years as much as it has without the help of various Thomasian writers. Frankly speaking, their joust with the pen have influenced, and even established, the Filipino literary canon.

It is not surprising that Thomasians have garnered Palanca awards year after year, some even carrying multiple awards to their name like Michael Coroza and Writer-in-Residence Ophelia Dimalanta. In fact, it is only UST which has its own writer-in-residence at present. With all these literary prestige under its name, how come Thomasian writers have evaded the lure of the Palanca for the past few years?

“Students who join the Palanca awards are usually neophytes who aim to be recognized. Maybe Thomasians are more concerned with honing their craft and having their material read,” said Dimalanta. “All they really need is encouragement and consultation from me.”

Truly, the University probably holds much more brilliant writers who have not joined literary contests, nor even The Varsitarian or Thomasian Writers Guild (TWG) for that matter. Some of them may just be basking in their tranquility for fear of ridicule, yet producing the best works that no award can ever define, not even a Palanca.

“Having a Palanca award attached to your name is good, but that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of your identity as a writer,” said Eros Atalia, a professor in the Faculty of Arts and Letters and a Palanca awardee himself.

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The Center for Creative Writing and Studies, a research body which aimed to uphold and nurture the literary prowess of Thomasians, may have helped in fueling this lessening fervor but it was sadly abolished due to lack of funds.

With the likes of Cirilo Bautista, Lourd de Veyra, Nerisa Guevara and Carlo Luz assisting aspiring fictionists, poets and essayists, one’s literary training was indeed in excellent hands back then. However, these names come with a hefty price in the form of monthly stipends—an expense the University had to do away with.

Likewise, with its abolishment comes the greater pressure on Dimalanta, who must wholly preside over the nurturing of the Thomasian’s creative mind. Staying true to her duty, she founded the first Thomasian Fiction Workshop last summer where fellows from different colleges of the University gathered to receive critiques from renowned writers like herself.

A classmate of mine, James Tana, who also happened to be a fellow in the Thomasian Fiction Workshop and Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika at Anyo (LIRA), expressed his longing for the CCWS’ restoration. He claimed that a center solely dedicated to his craft could have propagated the Thomasian’s yearning to excel in writing, possibly drawing more chances of reaping accolades in some of the country’s respected derbies, not only the Palanca.

“It is quite saddening that my UP friends have gained their share of Palancas, when UST is just as capable of doing so,” Tana said.

He added that the rare occasions of meeting up with fellow writers in TWG does not compensate the raw, unadulterated scrutiny of literary works through the eyes of established wordsmiths.

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Budget and time constraints aside, the center could’ve been a notably brilliant idea with its hodgepodge of creative thinkers in pursuit of just one goal—to revolutionize the Thomasian literary identity.

But the sudden disappearance of this center should not be the focal point of the lackluster turnout of Thomasian entries and awardees in the past few years’ Palanca awards.

Atalia conveyed the Palanca’s dependence on literary trends as well, citing alumnus Angelo Suarez—who, at the ripe age of 19, garnered his first award—as an example.

“Noong kapanahunan ni Angelo, magkakatunog ang mga tula, saka siya dumating,” Atalia said. “Maaaring hindi lang nakakatugon sa standard ng Palanca ngayon ang mga sumaling Tomasino, kung meron man.”

This award-giving body sounds overrated, to say the least, with all the fuss boring into the consciousness of a humble writer whose only purpose is to be read. It can even be dangerous to writers whose pure intentions are marred by those who only aim to brandish the award to exalt himself from the pool of the unrecognized. What the writer needs is just ample support from the university, even before his genius is recognized by these contests. As I’ve said before, an award is just a cherry on top of a job well done.

“The seed has already been planted, it is still up to the writer whether he chooses to improve this gift of his,” said Dimalanta.

True excellence can be conceived from the mind, whether a literary work has a Palanca badge imprint on it or not. Take heed, fellow Thomasian, and just write.

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1 COMMENT

  1. a palanca does not make a writer but it can be an impetus to write more, not because of the prize money (although it is a good incentive), but to improve oneself. some writers achieved literary fame without winning a palanca while others won a palanca then sank into oblivion after winning that one award.
    oh by the way, you seem to forget to include “playwrights” in your list of writers of the CCWS.
    regards

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