LITERATURE IN ENGLISH
Philippine literature in English is composed of the works in poetry and prose written by Filipinos in the English language. It constitutes, in the overall literary landscape, a larger stream than that written in Spanish, a much smaller stream than that written in the vernacular languages like Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilongo, Ilocano, Waray, Pampango, Pangasinan, Bicol, but certainly the most visible one because of its exposure in the educational system and its accessibility through publications. Despite the difficulty of drawing lines to delineate periods, to determine generations, to distinguish between those who began and those who followed, those who taught and those who studied—and then became colleagues— the period 1900-1930 has been called the Period of Apprenticeship (Manuud 1967:546), the learning time; 1930-1944, the Period of Emergence, in which voices matured and spoke on their own; and the succeeding years the Period of Awareness or simply the Modern Period. Philippine literature in English began in the first decade of the 20th century, soon after the establishment of the educational system. The first American teachers arrived in 1901; the Philippine Normal College was established in 1901, and the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1908. The decision to use English as the official medium of instruction for all public schools was the seed for the growth of a literature in English in a country that had at least eight major vernacular languages and had been colonized by Spain for more than 300 years. Since none of the vernaculars had been used in formal education, and Spanish had not been formally taught to the Filipinos until after 1863, English seemed to the products of the educational system the only logical tongue in which to write. It was the language of learning, the language of the models they read, and eventually the language of the publications friendly to their work. Outlets for their writing included the Philippines Free Press, founded in 1905; the College Folio at the University of the Philippines, 1910; the Philippines Herald, 1920; the Philippine Magazine, 1924. When asked why he wrote in English, Bienvenido N. Santos answered “. . . I think I fell in love with the sound of the English language” (Alegre and Fernandez 1984:219). From sound, appreciation progressed to meaning, and by the second decade a number of writers had started trying their hand at writing verse, among them Fernando Ma. Guerrero, who also wrote in Spanish, Juan F. Salazar, Maximo M. Kalaw, M. de Gracia Concepcion, Natividad Marquez, Procopio Solidum, Maximo M. Kalaw, Cornelio Faigao, and Fernando Maramag, whom poet-critic Gemino Abad calls (1989:392) “our first important poet in English.” By the 1930s the work of Luis Dato, Trinidad Tarrosa-Subido, Abelardo Subido, Aurelio Alvero, and especially Angela Manalang-Gloria and Jose Garcia Villa attested to the maturity of both tradition and the individual talent. The lyrical gift of Manalang-Gloria showcased in Poems, 1940, was nurtured within a quiet life as
a student in a convent school, then at the UP, as literary editor of the Herald, and as wife and mother. Jose Garcia Villa published his first poem at 15, and at 17 wrote “The Coconut Poem” that led to his suspension from the UP and self-exile in the United States among kindred spirits like Marianne Moore and Edith Sitwell. There he has since lived, received awards and published, his last poem being “The Anchored Angel” 1953, one of his “comma poems.” The short story, literary historian Bienvenido Lumbera calls “the showcase for the skill and art of Filipino writers using English” (1982:111). In 1925 was published Paz Marquez-Benitez’s “Dead Stars,” the first short story as such in craft and structure, as differentiated from earlier sketches and short narratives. Even today one is impressed by its sensitivity and skill, and by the speed with which Filipino writers had learned to handle the language and in...
References: Abad, Gemino and Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz. Man of Earth. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1989. Alegre, Edilberto and Doreen G. Fernandez. The Writer and His Milieu. Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1984. Calalang, Casiano. “How Shall We Write?” Philippines Herald (May 1927), 8. Lopez, Salvador P. Literature and Society. Manila: Philippine Book Guild, 1940. Lumbera, Bienvenido and Cynthia Nograles-Lumbera. Philippine Literature: A History and an Anthology. Manila: National Book Store, 1982.
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