Sa isang panayam kay Miguel Syjuco, na nanalo ng Grand Prize sa Palanca para sa nobela sa Ingles ngayong taon, ang nobela ring naghatid sa kaniya sa longlist ng Man Asian Literary Prize, nabanggit niya ang ilan sa mga hinahangaan niyang kakontemporanyo. Dahil nagmula sa Ateneo, halos puro Atenista ang nabanggit niya: DM Reyes, Rofel Brion, Clinton Palanca, Jodie Reyes. Nabanggit din ang Heights, kung saan umano unang nalathala ang kaniyang mga tula at maikling kuwento sa Ingles. At nang tanungin kung paano siya nagpasyang magsulat:

In my senior year at the Ateneo, I was an English Lit major. I wanted to be a literary critic, because I didn’t think I could write. For my thesis, I had a choice of either a scholarly thesis or a creative thesis. Being a lazy young man with delusions of entitlement and sheer talent, I tried to write a creative thesis by writing stories and poems. The poems were horrid. The stories were sufficient enough to be accepted into a workshop, though not enough to allow me permission to do a creative thesis.

Still, I’d experienced the white heat of writing and the fullness of completing a short story. The bug had bit me, and I’ve been writing ever since. Little by little my stories were published in national, respected publications. I was included in anthologies. So I thought I’d try for a master’s in creative writing in the US. I made my applications and my writing sample, and I sent it off, expecting to be soundly rejected. I even made a move toward taking up photography, because I didn’t think I’d make it as a writer. Lo and behold, I was accepted to Columbia University’s Creative Writing master’s program. It seems that I’ve fallen into writing by sheer accident and well-timed affirmation during my low moments of self doubt. It’s funny how that works.
Tinawag niyang bullshit ang mga akda nina Paulo Coelho, Dan Brown at Khaled Hosseini.

Pero wala siyang binanggit na nagsusulat lang sa Filipino (o sige, bilingual sina Brion at Reyes), mabuti man o hindi ang kaniyang masasabi. Bahagi kaya sila (kami) ng kaniyang imahinasyon?

3 Responses to

  1. Hello,
    This is Miguel Syjuco. Forgive me for writing in English, but because I grew up in Canada it is my only tongue. I hope this explains both my lack of mention of authors who write in Pilipino, as well as my decision to write in English. In Canada, my parents believed that I should speak the language of Canada (that was a big mistake, to my mind). I moved back to Manila for college at Ateneo, where the medium of study is English. I have a passable facility with conversational Tagalog, but I am sadly unable to write or read literature in my own native tongue. This is an embarassment and a big regret to me, but it is something I hope to remedy in the future (I did take private Tagalog lessons once, but the teacher ran away with my money!) I do believe that the Filipino experience does include others like myself, raised overseas, but who consider themselves proudly 100 per cent Pinoy. We are, after all, a land of many languages, and English is one of them. And love of country and dedication to it requires many roles, many hands, and maybe even many tongues.

  2. Hi, Miguel. Thank you for taking time at all to comment on this post. I've read some of your works in Heights and I'm probably one of many who await the publication of your novel (its metafictional interests, based on how you described it in your interviews, definitely attract me). Yes, I understand we are all limited by the language we can use--and how I wish I can read works written in Spanish & French & Iluko and in many other languages. That's why I hope I didn't sound offensive in this entry; I was just expressing a regret on how peripheral most of our works are in the consciousness of even some Filipino writers, but I don't think it is any individual's fault, if any body is at fault at all. Believe me, I love and celebrate the plurality & complexity of what makes a Filipino and a Filipino novel, and being a writer myself and also teacher and reader of literature, I appreciate that many Filipinos, here in the Philippines and in other parts of the world, continue to actively write about this complex experience we'd like to call Filipino. I am ashamed of having embarrassed you unintentionally; anyone who loves and does something for literature already earns my respect and admiration. As I said, I'm looking forward to read your novel and I hope you continue to write more stories.

  3. Hi Edgar!
    Thank you for your email. No, you didn't embarrass me more than I rightly should be -- I think your posting spoke to my latent sadness at being so distant from my own culture, though I'm glad you do see and understand that I am trying to make up for it using the language and skill that I do currently have. One day, though, I will master our language, but as I currently live abroad it seems now is not the best time (one needs to be amongst the language to really engage with it, as I'm discovering now that I live in Montreal and am trying to learn French so that I can penetrate the true layers of Quebecois culture; learning a language is one of the harderst things I've ever done, and I envy people like you who fate has gifted with the facility of more than one tongue).

    I agree that it is quite disheartening that oftentimes, because of our colonial mentality, Tagalog and the other languages aren't as "celebrated" by some awards or some publications or some people. But I do predict that writing in our native languages is really the future for Philippine literature, because it comes closer to the authentic, and unlike English it does not have to explain itself. There are so many Philippine works in English that use italics and try to explain references and cultural characteristics, serving to exoticise our work even to ourselves. Philippine lit in English often seems to be neither truly for the Philippines nor for the outside world, even though it tries to be. Work in our native languages, I believe, has more of a chance of being read by the broader base of Filipinos, and in being so, it will be more celebrated then translated for readers abroad. Phil Lit in English is in perpetual danger of being neither here nor there, and it shows in how the rest of the world receives it. (In fact, it is my ambition, after Ilustrado is published, to have it translated into Tagalog, precisely because I want to be read by my countrymen. It saddens me that my work must undergo the filter of translation to reach my own country in a meaningful way).

    Thank you for kind words and interest in Ilustrado. I do look forward to having you read it. To my mind, it is not yet finished, and I would like to continue working on it for several more months until I seek to have it published. I've come to the point where I've been working on it for so long that additional delays seem only right in order to make it as close to perfect as such a flawed work can be.

    The wonderful upside of our online exchange is that I feel I've made a friend, and I offer you my friendship, as a comrade of Philippine letters and otherwise. No need to apologise, though I do appreciate very much your writing to me with your generous sentiment.

    All the best,

    - Miguel