AFTER being dormant since 2008, the UST creative writing center has been revived with former UST Publishing House director Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo as director. The center’s original name has been slightly modified, so that it is now known as the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies. It has been lodged in its original office inside the St. Raymund de Peñafort Building, where it started in 1999 with the late Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta as inaugural director, although it reportedly will move later to a new office at the Graduate School.

When I first got inside the renovated center at the Faculty of Arts and Letters, I thought it was a playground since students were running inside like lovers frolicking in the woods.

The walls inside are whitewashed; a blaring white that would jolt you from your stupor. Rooms were clean as if they hadn’t been occupied yet (one room is being used as a classroom). It seemed the center is a haven in the middle of noisy St. Raymund’s.

Now that its all systems go for the much-awaited and much-debated revival of the center, I expect a big change for the humanities regime in the University, which is admittedly on a decline. As the Parable of the Faithful Servant in the Bible says, “To whom much is given much is expected.”

And we expect a lot.

Recently, when I went to UP-Diliman for a seminar for our thesis in embryology, I met up with friends from high school and did a lot of catching up on a bench in Sunken Garden as we watched from afar students playing football.

Edgardo Lantin's portrait realism

A friend asked me how had my writing been going and I answered, “Not much, but I’ve ventured into other facets of writing.” (What a self-serving answer!).

But what made me said was when she asked me if I had taken any creative writing course in UST, to which I shook my head. She said that in UP, students are given the freedom to choose any subject they like for their elective. An engineering or botany student could decide to take up creative writing as an elective, and this is UP’s way of encouraging students to explore other disciplines and other possibilities.

It’s sad that UST doesn’t give the same freedom to its students who are thereby left contained in their own space. By not giving creative writing as an elective course, or generally allowing students to take whatever they want as an elective, the administration pays mere lip-service to honing “well-rounded” students.

Even UST’s claim of having been the cradle of great writers has become false and empty because the humanities are on a decline on campus, especially the literary arts. It is noticeable that UST has not been producing great writers lately.

There may be organizations on campus that may satisfy one’s desire to hone one’s writing or other artistic inclinations. But the UST administration must really do something more interventionist to arrest the decline in writing and the humanities.

I have sought a “mentor” on campus to learn creative writing, but the campus doesn’t seem to provide anyone. In any case, I have Mary Oliver, Anne Lamott and Edward Hirsch as my mentors anyway.

Death and all its takings

As a writer-friend always says, you don’t need a mentor; you have your books and the Internet anyway. It’s true, but all I ask for is guidance. I am only thankful that I have one person to guide me through creative writing. But what about the others who want to write but who are looking for guidance and inspiration on campus?

Another friend who has taken up her Master’s in Literature here in the University has discouraged me from taking graduate studies on campus in literature or a creative writing. She didn’t explain her position.

I don’t know what the fate of the creative writing center will be or whether it will live up to the legacy of Dimalanta. But one thing is for sure: it is miles and miles away from its destination, its way is paved with roadblocks.

But a good start would be for the University to invest in its undiscovered literary talents, especially among the students. And it would be good to revive fully the annual writers workshop that will cater not only to Thomasians but also to students outside of the University.


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