by Isa Lorenzo
This year’s Writers Night capped off a trifecta of activities which included the 17th Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award (MGBFBA) and the launch of Likhaan Journal 11.
Held at the President B.M.S. Gonzales Room at the University Hotel, this year’s MGBFA recognized the debut works of authors writing in English. Initiated in 2001, The MGBFBA is an annual award given by the UP Institute of Creative Writing with the generous support of the Madrigal-Gonzalez family. For 17 years, the MGBFBA has honored Filipino writers who have recently come out with their first books in either English or Filipino. The award hopes to become both an inspiration and springboard for the recipient to continue with what they have started, and to foster the creation of even more critically acclaimed works of literature in the Philippines, in the various genres.
Previous winners of the MGBFBA have gone on to win other major awards and have written important new works, including F. H. Batacan, whose crime-thriller novel Smaller and Smaller Circles has enjoyed international acclaim and is now a major motion picture.  Another is Dr. Luna Sicat Cleto, now one of the ICW’s fellows and former ICW deputy director, for her novel Makinilyang Altar.  There’s also one of this year’s judges, Angelo “Sarge” Lacuesta who was the award’s first recipient in 2001 with his acclaimed collection of short stories, Life After X.
This year’s finalists were Arnie Quibranza Mejia for Writing Naked: A Memoir, V.J. Campilan for All My Lonely Islands, Francisco Guevara for The Reddest Herring, and Catherine Torres for Mariposa Gang and Other Stories. The judges are Gemino Abad, Randy David, and Sarge Lacuesta.
The University of Santo Tomas Press had three finalists (Mejia, Guevara, and Torres), while Anvil Publishing had one (Campilan).
Writing Naked was brought about by Mejia’s love for his ex-boyfriend, Ansel, who died of AIDS. Ansel’s death spurred Mejia to write the book, which took two decades to finish.
Campilan’s experience as a third-culture kid (TCK) inspired All My Lonely Islands. Campilan talked about the alienation she felt and the discrimination that she experienced when she returned to the Philippines. This led her to write a novel about a TCK. Guevara’s mother, Mrs. Ana Ferreria-Guevara, choked up as she related her son’s sudden death at the age of 31, from a skateboarding accident. “When writers die, they become books, which is after all, not too bad an incarnation,” she said.
Torres, who is based in Germany, was unable to attend the award ceremony.
Campilan won this year’s MGBFBA. “I wrote All My Lonely Islands as a meditation on what it meant to grow up with a fractured identity, its particular brand of loneliness and alienation. It started as my own story and expanded into a representation of Filipino TCKs, thousands of us who return to these islands, feeling just as lost and as cut off, floating isolated on the Pacific. I wanted a chance to explain our side of the story; this novel graciously gave me the platform to do so.” she said in her acceptance speech.
After the MGBFBA, everyone trooped outside to the University Hotel grounds. After an early dinner, the Likhaan 11 launch commenced. This year’s Likhaan published young writers, like Nicko de Guzman and Kat Del Rosario, along with established names like Allan Popa, Eugene Evasco, and Ned Parfan, who read one of his sonnets for the launch.
Another launch immediately followed the Likhaan 11 launch: the soft kickoff of Romulo P. Baquiran’s poetry book Ibig. Baquiran was feted (and gently criticized) by fellow writer Niles Jordan Breis, who introduced the book. Other writers, including Giancarlo Abraham, Loaf Fonte, and Bebang Siy read poems from the book. It was sold at a discounted price at the “Lung Center” just before the open grounds, along with books from the University of the Philippines Press and Anvil Publishing.
Gou de Jesus kicked off Writers Night by introducing pianist Henry Katindig and his wife Jeannie, who played a medley of songs from a bygone era. Katindig then jammed with the Radioactive Sago project, who played their hit songs “Gin Pomelo” and “Baboy.”
Writers came and went: National Artists Rio Alma and Bienvenido Lumbera, a resplendent Gilda Cordero Fernando. Directors Trebs Montero and Khavn dela Cruz also attended, the latter even jamming with Radioactive Sago Project.
Soon, de Jesus sang with the Katindig couple. Writers Marne Kilates and Charlson Ong followed suit.
An open mike featured performances from the barong-clad Makatas (made up of Dakila Cutab, Karl Isaac Santos, and RR Cagalingan), who delivered a Balagtasan battle, and rap songs from two of the men featured in the movie Tribu.
Past 11:30 p.m., and the authors were still at it. It was truly a night to celebrate the craft of writing.
Photos by Benjie Villacruel