Workshop as Alternate Reality: Notes from the Inaugural Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Writers Workshop

Mon, 10/24/2016 - 15:55 -- admin
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The real world, in general, does not treasure writers.

Or, rather: the things writers treasure—silence, daydreams, a rich inner life, the music of language, solitude—are the things that the real world may not consider important. People working outside the academe—people like me—feel this acutely. Who would pay me to critique a literary work? Who would pay me for every hour I spend untangling a story’s plot? Who would give me a comfortable room in order to read?

Joining a workshop, in many ways, is like stepping into an alternate reality. It’s like accompanying Einstein’s twin who travels near the speed of light and experiences time slowing down. It’s like carving a space where you and your strange thoughts are welcome.

When I was invited as Panelist for the inaugural Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Writers Workshop (ALBWW), which was also the first national-level workshop focused on speculative fiction or sapantaha, I immediately said yes. How can you say no to history? This was also a chance for me to listen to celebrated author and playwright Prof. Lapeña-Bonifacio, who, together with the late fictionist Francisco Arcellana and the poet Alejandrino G. Hufana, created and established the UP Creative Writing Center, which she headed as Director from 1986 to 1995. As a sophomore I watched her “Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa: Isang Noh sa Laguna” at the University Theater, and as a junior I won a prize in the Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Literary Awards for “Sugar Pi”. It was like coming full circle. A homecoming of sorts.
Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio
 

 

A total of 58 writers sent entries to the workshop, with 42 submitting entries in English and 16 in Filipino. With two entries per applicant, we received 84 stories in English and 32 in Filipino.

The Panelists (myself, Nikki Alfar, Vladimier Gonzales, and Will Ortiz) whittled them down to seven Fellows for English and five Fellows for Filipino.

The 2016 ALBWW fellows for English were Paul Cyrian Baltazar, Rachel Castañares, John Leir Castro, Vida Cruz, Arby Medina, Arianne Patricia Onte, and Rosemarie Urquico.

The fellows for Filipino were Mary Gigi Constantino, Joel Donato Ching Jacob, Christian Ray Pilares, Isaac Ali Tapar, and Kristoffer Aaron Tiña.

They come from as near as Malate and as far as Naga. We have an illustrator, an HIV counselor, several teachers, a slam poet, a Submissions Editor for a US-based fantasy magazine, and one who described his life as “pretty uneventful”. (Well, not anymore!)

The stories they submitted were as varied as their backgrounds: we discussed a strange spirit disrupting a marriage, a murderous Sto. Niño, a queer character who derives her power from traumatic experiences, a woman piecing her life together in a city where it always rains, a toy shop that appears in the middle of a cemetery, a boy being usurped by a wooden doll.

We asked, “What if the Earth was created by a song?” or “What if we entered a dark dimension while stuck in a traffic jam on Skyway?” or “What if you die and the person who will take you to Paradise is not San Pedro or your dearly departed relatives, but rock star Pepe Smith?”

We talked about the coming of the Second Great Flood and psychic creatures living in ice on Pluto. We tried to figure out—and are still trying to figure out—the varying states of travelling songs. (We’re looking at you, Arby!)

The ALBWW Fellows at Distrito De MoloI was also glad we were able to take the 12 Fellows to watch Distrito De Molo (directed by Tony Mabesa, written by Iloilo-born playwright Leoncio P. Deriada with a Filipino translation by Allan Palileo) at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at UP Diliman. Distrito felt like an extension of our ALBWW discussions, with its three one-act plays concerned with issues such as identity, faith, family, secrets, memory, power in all of its forms.

I don’t know if the planets aligned, or if someone made a sacrifice somewhere, but this group had great chemistry. The discussions were lighthearted but focused, collegial but constructive. This group embraced the best advice one can give to a writer, beginner or otherwise: Do not take yourself too seriously, but always, always, in your life and in your art, aim for illumination.

And in the spirit of not taking ourselves too seriously, the Cosplay Graduation was a blast.

 
 
 
 
At the close of the Workshop, Prof. Lapeña-Bonifacio sang “Blowin in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and reminded the Fellows about the questions she asked during her opening speech:
  1. Will you stay in the form you are writing (novel, short story, poetry), or will you experiment?
  2. Will you remain in the language you are writing (English, Filipino, other languages)?
  3. What are your current subject matters? Will you continue to write about them?
  4. What is your vision?

She collected the Fellows’ answers and sealed them, promising them that the answers will only be opened ten years from now.

The workshop ended, and we’re back in the real world. We can only speculate on what will happen within those ten years, but I do hope these Fellows will continue to write—will continue to create their own alternate realities for the things they treasure the most—as I myself plan to.

 
 
Eliza Victoria is the author of several books, including the Philippine National Book Award-winning Dwellers (2014) and the novel Wounded Little Gods (2016). Visit her at http://elizavictoria.com.
 
 
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