"She spoke about building a bridge between ‘hard literature’ and ‘pop fiction.’"
One of the most scintillating stars of the literary firmament was recognized for her contributions to Philippine literature at the 69th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature held Nov. 8 at the Peninsula Manila.
University of Santo Tomas Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies director Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo received the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi from the Palanca Foundation’s Carl Anthony S. Palanca and Mrs. Criselda ‘Dang’ Cecilio-Palanca.
Dr. Hidalgo was the guest of honor and speaker at this year's awarding ceremony. She has received three Palanca Awards including the Grand Prize for Novel. As a literature professor at the University of the Philippines, she mentored many students who have gone on to be awarded writers themselves.
In her speech, she spoke about “building a bridge between ‘hard literature’ and ‘pop fiction.’” The first term, she said, refers to the sort of literature that wins Palancas—“literature that is carefully crafted, literature that seeks to explore ideas which the writer feels strongly about, literature that is written, not just to share experiences, but to offer insights about its subject.”
Yet, she said, one must remain open to other forms of writing. She cited the plea of Precious Pages and Lampara publisher Jun Matias in a speech, who said that “so many young people [want] to share their stories, and so many people [want] to read them, that publishers who choose to continue to ignore it, or “judge” it—by which he meant, look down on it—run the risk of being left behind.”
An example of these works of popular fiction are the Wattpad books, some of which sell so phenomenally that fans treat their authors as rock stars. Another publisher has a deal to turn selected Wattpad novels into print.
Hidalgo added, “Actually, my initial reaction to the Wattpad phenomenon when I first heard of it was astonishment. I had no idea that so many people wanted to write fiction. But why not? Looking back on my own teen years… didn’t I, too, want to write stories?”
And write they do indeed. Wattpad novel “She’s Dating a Gangster” by Bianca Bernardino became “not just a National Bookstore bestseller, but the first Wattpad novel to be turned into a movie (by Star Cinema, with Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla in the lead roles).”
Hidalgo also mentioned the author ‘Jonaxx’ the most popular writer of a certain publishing house, who is “so big that the company has created an imprint just for her. According to her fan page she is the first Filipina Wattpad author to gain 1 million followers.” A Facebook page of that name has over 147,000 followers. Jonaxx is the pseudonym of 28-year-old pre-school teacher Jonah Mae Panen of Cagayan de Oro.
Hidalgo acknowledged the natural talent of such writers, and suggested that as professional writers “they need some form of training, even if it be self-training.” She mentioned Charmaine M. Lasar, a 20-year-old Wattpad writer who won a Palanca for the novel in Filipino in 2015, clarifying that Lasar was quoted to have said she “consciously deviated from her Wattpad writing style, which is looser and more carefree,” and opted to write something that was “medyo malalim” in terms of language.” Lasar, she said, is saving up to take a degree in creative writing.
Hidalgo says bridging the gap between popular fiction and serious literature can be done. “In concrete terms, this means: on the one hand, accepting the level at which most of our reading public is—what it’s willing to read, what it enjoys reading—and, on the other hand, committing at least a part of the resources available to producing books which will upgrade standards and tastes.”
And finally, she reminded writers of their duty to society and nation:
“As writers, we all know that we must stay the course, most particularly in bleak times such as those that confront us now…
“We will observe, we will record, we will protest. Above all, we will remember. And we will endure.”
Named after businessman and philanthropist Don Carlos Palanca Sr., the Palanca Awards cultivate Philippine literature by providing incentives for writers. Over the years it has become the most prestigious literary contest in the country, and has been dubbed ‘the Philippine Pulitzer.’
With the bi-annual Novel and Nobela categories open this year, there were 22 writing categories. This year, the Foundation honored 56 writers, 32 of whom are first-time awardees. Two of them bagged prizes in two separate categories, with one being a first-time winner.
Decorated writer Lamberto E. Antonio won his fifth first prize this year for Tula and was inducted into the Palanca Hall of Fame. Among the other first prize winners is Kate Osias for “James Machine,” Short Story. The Grand Prize for Novel went to Reine Arcache Melvin for “The Betrayed.”
Please visit the Palanca website for the full list of winners.
Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s Palanca Awards! /FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO