“This government’s officials should look at the arts not just as something highfalutin’ to do with culture, but also as a potential giant revenue earner”
Academic Caroline S. Hau and writer RM Topacio-Aplaon were big winners at the recent 39th National Book Awards (NBA), with their novels receiving top honors for Best Novel in English and Best Novel in Filipino respectively.
Hau’s Tiempo Muerto: A Novel, published by the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) Press, opens in Singapore and entwines the stories of Lia, born to a wealthy Filipino family and married to a wealthy Singaporean executive, and Racel, an overseas Filipino worker employed as a yaya.
Together they return to the Philippines to solve family and personal problems. But the challenges that rise to meet them aren’t the usual, and how they face them are at the core of this powerful debut novel.
Hau, a professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, has written two short story collections and many works of non-fiction.
Topacio-Aplaon’s Topograpiya ng Lumbay: Imus Novel 6, published by the University of the Philippines (UP) Press, is the penultimate of a septalogy set in the author’s hometown. His first novel in English, At Night We Are Dancers, was published by Penguin Random House SEA.
The NBA is given annually by the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) in coordination, over the past few years, with the National Book Development Board, (NBDB), a government agency. The event was not held in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, and resumed this year.
For this year’s tilt, 110 finalists were selected, all published in 2019 and 2020. Twenty-seven of them won across 25 categories, with two winners declared in the Poetry and Drama in English categories.
Recently-named National Artist for Literature Gemino H. Abad’s When Bridges Are Down, Mountains Too Far: New Poems (UP Press) won Best Book of Poetry in English, as did Dinah Roma’s We Shall Write Love Poems Again (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House).
The two winners for Best Book of Drama in English were Lito Casaje (Salvador/Javier at Iba Pang Dula, UP Press) and Rody Vera (Two Women as Specters of History: Lakambini and Indigo Child, Ateneo Press.)
Multi-awarded author Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., who taught for many years at UP, won Best Book of Short Fiction in English for Voyager and Other Fictions: The Collected Stories of Jose Dalisay Jr. (Anvil). The counterpart prize for Filipino went to Ateneo professor Allan Derain’s The Next Great Tagalog Novel at Iba Pang Kuwento (UP Press).
Named Publisher of the Year for its eight winning titles was Ateneo Press, headed by its director Maria Karina Bolasco, who formerly ran Anvil Publishing.
This is the fifth time Ateneo Press has bagged the honor – it previously won in 2008, 2017, 2018, and 2019. This year’s recognition is a special one as the Ateneo Press celebrates its 50th founding anniversary.
For the full list of winners and the various categories, please visit the NBDB Facebook page.
Meanwhile, I would like to thank the MCC, chaired until this year’s NBA by Palanca Award-winning writer Ruel S. de Vera, for inviting me to be the newest member of the Circle.
I didn’t participate in the deliberations of this year’s winners – I start my duty in the next cycle — but I observed the proceedings and noted how meticulous and rigorous the MCC members and the guest judges were in making their decisions.
The books of MCC members cannot be considered for the NBA, and we’re in effect taking one for the team, but it is an honor to be able to serve the Philippine literary community in this way. Prizes and incentives, though not to be mistaken for the ultimate metric that decides the greatness of a writer, do help to encourage writers to do more and at the highest levels.
The NBDB will partner once more with the MCC for the logistics of next year’s event, but after that will no longer take an active role and limit itself to helping fund the NBA.
The NBDB has done a lot to assist and support the MCC in staging the NBA the past several years, but it is hoped that other government agencies, even interested LGUs, will help the MCC with its mission to sustain the NBA going forward.
Not only are the arts – literature, music, visual arts, and the others — valuable expressions of the nation’s soul, but speaking in practical terms, they also can bring in revenue and energize the economy. Look at the case of K-pop and what it’s done to put South Korea on the entertainment map.
Books and stories can be adopted into other forms of content such as movies and TV shows, and the NBDB is doing what it can toward this by promoting Philippine literature at book fairs abroad.
This government’s officials should look at the arts not just as something highfalutin’ to do with culture, but also as a potential giant revenue earner.
More on this in future columns – I’m now helping with a huge report on the music industry that has very interesting findings that I will share when allowed to do so — but for now, I’ll end with an appeal to the heads of government agencies as well as private organizations to consider sponsoring arts events and initiatives as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. *** FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO