This year’s National Literature Month goes online

Published March 29, 2021, 10:53 AM

by Joe Priela

Celebrate the power of Pinoy literature through the following events

Despite our rather dreadful situation, this pandemic will not put on the brakes on celebrating our seventh year of the National Literature Month as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) push and line up events—from competitive contests to creative workshops—through online platforms. 

This year’s celebration coincides with the quincentenary of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines. With the theme “Limandaang Taon ng Pagsulat sa Kalibutang Filipino,” it aims to highlight the undeniable part of this historic event in shaping the country and its people—influencing art and culture, particularly, the field of literary arts.

A handful of literary and cultural events are set this April. Kicking off the virtual celebration is a wreath-laying ceremony for “Araw ni Balagtas,” deemed as the forerunner of the National Literature Month. It will be held at Orion, Bataan on April 2, 2021.

This will immediately be followed by the launching of a series of online webinars on the interplay of local literature and history, on April 5, 2021, with the KWF. Anthropologist Dr. Alicia Magos of the University of the Philippines – Visayas will be the speaker for the initial webinar entitled “Wikang Katutubo: Wika ng Dekolonisasyon.” Subsequent webinars will be held on April 12, 19, and 26, 2021: “Mulang Babaylan hanggang kay Darna at ang Di-Matapos-tapos na Pakikibaka ng mga Filipina” with speaker Dr. Raquel Buban of DLSU, “Kasaysayan: Batis ng Panitikan” with speaker Dr. Lhai Taylan of DLSU, and “Pagsasalin mulang Wikang Katutubo Tungong Filipino bilang Kultural na Dekolonisasyon at Pagsasa-Filipino ng Filipino” with Ilokano language and culture expert Dr. Leo Tejano.

To further promote and revitalize oral forms and traditions in the country, the Technical Working Group for NLM 2021 continues the “Timpalak Florentino H. Hornedo: Ang Paglikha at Pag-awit ng Laji (Bersiyong Onlayn),” an online competition series that will be exclusively held in Batanes, which aims to encourage writing and singing of the traditional Ivatan literary art form, Laji. The competition will officially open on March 31, 2021 to interested elementary students for the singing category and high school students for the singing and writing category. Awarding is scheduled on April 26, 2021.

Meanwhile, two new competitions highlighting the Balitaw in Visayas and Leleng in Mindanao will be launched on April 5, 2021. “Timpalak Leleng” will cater to high school students from Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula) while “Timpalak Balitaw” will be open to secondary and college students of Region 6 (Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor). Awarding ceremonies will be held on April 28 and 29, 2021 respectively.

On April 7, 2021, the Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas (UMPIL) will hold the “UMPILan sa Facebook Live!,” the first of a lecture series on the significance and the correlation of Christianity with Philippine literature, in view of its 500th year since it was brought to the country by the Spaniards in April 1521. The rest of the episodes will be held on the succeeding Saturdays of April. Speakers for the lecture series include Fr. Jose Mario Francisco, SJ and Leo Zafra on April 7; Dr. Alicia Magos and Dr. Allan Derain on April 10; Dr. Agnes Brazal and Dr. Jayeel Cornelio on April 17; and Dr. Nerissa Balce and Dr. Jovito Cariño on April 24.

On April 9, 2021, the much-awaited book entitled “4Ps (Pitong Pantig, Pintig at Pagitan)” will also be launched through The Tanaga Writing Project of the Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika at Anyo Inc. (LIRA) and the Savage Mind Bookshop. Said project came into fruition with the help of the NCCA.

On April 14 to 15, 2021, the University of St. La Salle, in cooperation with the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center and the NCCA, will kickstart the 20th Iyas Creative Writing Workshop. Held every summer in Bacolod City, the workshop awards twelve fellowships to writers from all over the country in the genres of fiction, poetry, and drama, in use of languages such as English, Filipino, Cebuano, and Hiligaynon. The series will run every Wednesdays and Thursdays of April until May 6, 2021.

Continuing its annual tradition of honoring the exemplary contributions of distinct National Artists for Literature, the NCLA will launch the online “Reading the National Artists for Literature Series.” This time, focusing on the works of Carlos P. Romulo in cooperation with University of the Philippines Baguio and Jose Garcia Villa in cooperation with Ateneo de Manila University School of Humanities on April 16 and 23, 2021 respectively. Dr. Jose Dalisay Jr., professor emeritus at the UP Diliman Dept. of English, will lead the conversation on the works of Carlos P. Romulo while Dr. Jonathan Chua, dean of the School of Humanities of Ateneo de Manila, will likewise discuss on Jose Garcia Villa.

On April 24, 2021, from 2 to 4 p.m., a symposium on the works of award-winning playwright and writer Dr. Isagani Cruz will be held online through the collaborative efforts of the De La Salle University and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. Aptly titled “Isagani R. Cruz: A Beautiful Mind,” the event will feature speakers Dr. Ronald Baytan, Dr. Isidoro Cruz, Dr. Shirley Lua, and Dr. John Iremil Teodoro as they explore and examine the depth of Dr. Cruz’ writings and researches.

Closing the celebration will be UMPIL’s ”Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas, Benitez, at Bucaneg,” an annual awarding ceremony that recognizes the brilliant works of the established and prominent individuals, writers, and scholars with regard to Philippine literature. The ceremony will be held online on April 30, 2021. The awardees include Albert Alejo, SJ (Poetry and Translation in Filipino), Joel David (Film Criticism in English), Patrick Flores (Art Criticism in English), Luisa Igloria (Poetry in English), Michael Obenieta (Poetry in Cebuano), Bibeth Orteza (Screenplay), and Jessica Zafra (Fiction and Essay in English). In addition, Dr. Lily Rose Tope of UP Diliman will be awarded the Gawad Paz Marquez Benitez, while Communication Foundation for Asia will be honored with the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg.

Other activities for the NLM celebration include the 12th installment of NBDB’s Philippine International Literary Festival (PILF), a landmark project that serves as an avenue for readers, publishers, and creatives to engage in discourse and celebrate literature. The 12th PILF will be the first edition of the festival that will run all throughout the year and will serve as the NBDB’s main initiative under which all projects for 2021 will be launched.

The celebration of National Literature Month is established by Presidential Proclamation 968 and was signed by former president Benigno Aquino III in 2015. Its goal is to promote, conserve, and popularize the country’s historical and cultural heritage and resources, as well as artistic creations through literature.

Filipinos, by nature, adapt to changing times and this year’s National Literature Month proves it. As Dante Francis Ang II, chairman of NBDB, says, “There is, now more than ever, a need to connect with one another through stories—to encourage Filipinos all around the world to read, tell stories, and perhaps most importantly, listen to one another.”