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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

entry arrow4:04 PM | Is the Pen Dry in Dumaguete? (Part 1)

First of Three Parts

Near the end of the second semester in Silliman University, one of my former students -- a brash and promising future mass communicator named Rodrigo Bolivar -- wrote me an email which stirred the writer and teacher in me. What I felt, perhaps, after reading the email, was a sudden awareness of the need for a kind of cultural advocacy, or a realization that something must be done to awaken what has been virtually sleeping in Dumaguete for the past years -- which is our creative writing culture.

I am printing that letter in full, which goes:

Dear Sir Ian,

During my last trip in Bacolod for the Negros-wide Journalists Fellowship, I was amazed to see how much the students in the University of St. La Salle are into literary works. They publish an annual literary folio, and I [found] all the [published] short stories and poetry to be not mediocre [at all] but could be considered [seriously literary]. I was also amazed when they told me that one of their past times is to do poetry reading at local cafes and coffee shops.

So when one student from St. La Salle asked me how the creative writing "culture" was here in Dumaguete, I [couldn't] answer because I really didn't know what to say. Sir, let me ask you, how is the creative writing "culture" here in Dumaguete?

I remember asking somebody in Silliman how come not many in the faculty of the English department are getting themselves involved in literary competitions, in publishing books, etc. The person was not able to answer that. This afternoon, I asked Mr. Misael Ondong [note: an English teacher in Silliman] about the creative writing culture in Dumaguete, and he told me that it was in a "drought." Mr. Niccolo Vitug [note: a poet and former English teacher in Silliman] even told me before that the Creative Writing Program in Silliman wasn't as good as it had been before.

Is the creative writing 'Golden Age' already over in Silliman? Weren't you the one who once told me that Dumaguete is a rite of passage for Filipino writers, and that there's no significant writer in the Philippines today that has no connection [of some sort] with Dumaguete? What has happened to our Silliman students? How come it has been quite some time since a Sillimanian even qualified for the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop?

Mr. Ondong told me that it is because the best student writers in Silliman right now are enrolled in Nursing, and they are busy students -- and they know they will not be pursuing a writing career in the future. I remember that the Kapunungan ng mga Mass Communicators once held a poetry reading at Sted's Locker Room during the first semester, but it flopped.

Do you think the students right now are not anymore interested in writing, or even reading? Do you think it is because the best writers on school are now in the College of Nursing and that they are all busy [to bother with] poetry readings? Or has the creative writing culture here simply diminished or has deteriorated?

I think something should be done on this, Sir.


You don't get letters like that from students everyday. It moved me, and alas it also awakened something in me. What I find most tragic in the aftermath of reading the letter is the fact that Rodrigo -- in many senses -- hits it right on the bull's eye. Dumaguete, once easily touted as the creative writing capital of the country, seems to have gone the way of a dry well.

I formulated a response to Rodrigo's email, after nights of agonizing over the right thing to say. What resulted is an essay that will surpass the acceptable length of this post. So this literary thread has to continue next week.

In the meantime, I would like to announce that the contest forms for the 2006 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature are now available. You can avail of these forms by emailing me at sands_coral(at)hotmail(dot)com.

Applications for fellowships to the 45th edition of the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City are also now being accepted until March 31. National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo, workshop director, has announced that the summer sessions are to be held from May 8 to 27.

Application letters should be addressed to Dr. Tiempo, 2nd Floor, CAP Building, Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete City, together with a resume, two 2x2-inch photos of the applicant, and manuscripts in English in any of the following genres, with respective quantity: 3-5 short stories, 7-10 poems, 3-5 creative non-fiction essays, or 2 one-act plays.

The manuscripts can be sent as hardcopy, but should also be accompanied by a disk copy, preferably in MS Word, plus a certification that the works are original, and a recommendation letter from a professor of literature or creative writing or a writer of distinction.

Fellowships cover board and lodging and a modest stipend for the duration of the workshop, as well as partial reimbursement of travel fare. Writers who have already received fellowships in other national workshops for this year are enjoined to apply at another time.

(To be continued)

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