Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Every year in May, the National Writers Summer Workshop is held at Dumaguete City for three weeks.
I've heard about this writing workshop in the 80s from one of my mentors, Tita Lacambra-Ayala. Bringing typewritten manuscripts of my short stories, I would travel three hours by bus to Davao City to see her. She took me under her wing, egging me to drink several glasses of rum-coke while she read my stories. Half-drunk, I would listen as she critiqued my work. She would also regale me with her literary exploits. She would bring me to exhibits, poetry readings, meetings with the local literati like Lydia Ingle and Wenzel Bautista. I would help her out by selling sets of her Roadmap Series featuring the works of fictionists, poets and painters.
When my short story, Crimson Crescents, won the grand prize in a Mr. & Ms. magazine contest in 1988, Tita urged me to join the National Writers Workshop. I was apprehensive about the workshop at first, fearing that whatever natural writing talent I have would not withstand the panel critiquing. She gave me the list of requirements and volunteered to write the requisite letter of recommendation to Mom Edith Tiempo.
And so in 1989, I took the circuitous route (dictated by the meager travel allowance given by the Workshop administration) of bus rides from Gensan to Davao City to Cagayan de Oro City where I took a boat ride to Cebu City and another boat ride from there to Dumaguete City. Upon arrival at the narrow wharf, I asked a vendor for directions to Silliman University. With her pouting lips, she pointed to a large mansion by the sea. After a short walk, I walked between the portals of the University. A Workshop staff led me to Sampaguita Residence where the workshoppers were billeted. In the afternoon, the 16 of us were present and raring to undergo the workshop. At 6 p.m. a chorus of screams emanated from the ladies room followed by the sound of slippered feet clambering down the stairs. While doing their ablutions, the ladies from Manila got the scare of their lives when they heard the disembodied sounds (TUK-oo, TUK-oo) made by a tree gecko. Their horror elicited hearty laughs from the promdi (from the provinces) workshoppers.
The next day, at the start of the workshop, we were given a hefty compilation of our works with our bylines in absentia. A schedule of what works would be tackled in the workshop was also distributed. The panel was introduced to us and vice-versa. Dad Ed and Mom Edith Tiempo were the chair and at various intervals, we had lively discussions with Francis Macansantos, Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Merlie Alunan, Marj Evasco, Anthony Tan, Ophelia Dimalanta, Jimmy Abad, and Beth Day Romulo.
The workshop sessions were held in various venues. The panel was generally encouraging in their comments. But there was no drama especially during the critiquing. The workshoppers were often surprised by the insights drawn from their obra maestra. Always there were bursts of applause when the writer was introduced at the end of the session. Lakambini Sitoy's star shone the brightest, according to panelists and they were right.
The group was quite laid back. Some of us took early morning or late afternoon dips at the Silliman Beach, watched Blue Velvet at the only cinema in town, enjoyed the night breeze while sipping beer by the Boulevard, browsed old used books at the mezzanine of a store, trekked to the Overlook, strolled inside the vast campus, chatted about the sessions just finished while feasting on Jo's inato chicken and halo-halo, joined Cesar Ruiz Aquino in a chess game on a downtown sidewalk. Jose Wendell Capili took some pictures of us.
We held a dinner poetry reading session hosted at poet-musicologist Dr. Albert Faurot's campus residence. But the most memorable to me was the luncheon hosted by the Tiempos at their home. After the luncheon, Dad Ed took me aside and with his arm on my shoulder, gave me the lowdown on fiction writing. He said I was a natural story teller and that I should continue writing short stories. For that, I am eternally grateful to Dad Ed, one of my literary heroes.
All in all, it was the most cerebrally stimulating summer I ever spent.
After that, being one of only two from Mindanao, I sort of lost touch with my fellow fellows. However, in 1999 (ten years later), I would have an unexpected reunion with some of them during the launching of Relasyon edited by Rolando Tolentino and Luna Sicat at Ateneo de Manila University.