Can a literary award make a body of work popular?

The Carlos Palanca Foundation, Inc., the Palanca Awards organizer, received almost a thousand entries this year. And out of these entries, 52 came from 51 writers and authors and were adjudged the best, 24 of whom were first-time awardees.

“Of these winners, 14 were of the 31 to 40 age bracket, 12 of those are aged 21 to 30, and 10 are from the 41 to 50 age group. Eight were under 20. Then there were five for the 51 to 60 age group, and one each for the sexagenarians and those even older,” said Criselda Cecilio-Palanca in her speech during the awards night on Sept. 2 at The Peninsula Manila in Makati City.

WRITERS COMMUNITY. Sylvia Palanca-Quirino (center), Director General of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, flanked by the 51 winners at the literary contest’s awarding ceremony held Friday at the Manila Peninsula. Photo by Sonny Espiritu
Cecilio-Palanca furthered that since its inception up to its 66th edition this year, the total number of Palanca winners has reached 2,251 authors with 2,330 winning works, and some 25 names have been included in the Hall of Fame.

Established in 1950, Palanca Awards, as our own paper calls it, is the “Pulitzer Prize” of the Philippines in terms of prestige. For writers, novice and established alike, receiving a Palanca is an ultimate aspiration. It is similar to getting a badge that a writer could proudly include in his portfolio, on the cover of his published works or even in his business card. It is an emblem of validation that separates a writer from the ordinary ones.

But in this day and age when a number of top influencers from literary sphere are online wordsmiths, we wonder whether or not a Palanca badge of excellence guarantees audience or readers. In the same sense, can it help in building a reputation and boosting sales?

Perhaps, Eugene Y. Evasco, a Palanca Hall of Famer himself who also took home prizes in two separate categories this year, may have an answer.

“A Palanca award matters in the writing community. It’s our validation as writers. Now my goal is to have an audience because although I have succeeded in my effort to be recognized in my profession, I’ve yet to entice my intended audience,” Evasco told the Manila Standard.

The Palanca awardee is a writer and a college professor. He has written award-winning stories for children and adults, poetry, and essays in Filipino. Although his work has been recognized by different award giving bodies (16 awards from Palanca) and were even translated into different languages, he still feels that he “lacks the audience” to further his personal advocacy, which is to expose a generation of children to local culture by popularizing local mythology and folklores.

“I get feedback that my stories are too heavy or complicatedly written for my intended audience. But I don’t want to simplify my writing only because I write for young readers. It’s a conscious effort because I want to intellectualize the language…uplift the level of Filipino as a literary language,” he emphasized.

And this is just one of the reasons why, amid him being a multi-awarded author, he still gets rejected by publishers and that his books are nowhere to be found on the bestseller shelves.

Like Evasco, first-time Palanca awardee Ymmanuel Rico Provinio has an interesting story and personal advocacy to share but still lacks the support of a production company. Through his work entitled Alay ng Lupa sa Daing ng Dagat, a third prize winner under “Dulaang Pampelikula” category, Provinio wanted the whole world to know the continuing struggles of locals in Masinloc, Zambales.  

“It’s inspired by true incidents and portrays a family that represents Filipino fisher folk in Masinloc – how they are bullied by the Chinese Navy whenever they go fishing in the disputed waters. Although it’s already ours, the struggle still continues,” Provinio said.

Obviously, both Evasco and Provino have written critically praised works but their commercial viability is yet to be tested.

In publishing, it could be that there was just an error of judgment on the publishers’ side since we all know that they would always go for something that sells. Nowadays, although it’s hard to digest, it’s easy to sell a Wattpad story than a decent literary work. So obviously, we need to connect the dots to resolve it. If our goal is to popularize Filipino literature then it’s imperative to adapt to the language the intended audience would understand. Writers are naturally resourceful and creative, there’s no way they wouldn’t be able to find ways around it.

Topics: Carlos Palanca Foundation Inc. , Palanca Awards , Palanca Awards organizer , Criselda Cecilio Palanca , Eugene Y. Evasco , Ymmanuel Rico Provinio
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