2015 Banaag Diwa Awards Opening Address

(Delivered 26th March 2015, at Ateneo de Davao’s Finster Auditorium)


To the members of the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors, of the Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Sining at Komunikasyon, editors, writers, and staffers of the Atenews, teachers, students, readers, and to all of us who like calling ourselves writers, good evening


The Ateneo de Davao is most likely the only university in Mindanao, and one of the few in the country, to have a campus literary award. It is the latest development of that institution which has kept our literary scene thriving for decades, Banaag Diwa.


Banaag is a wonderfully curious thing. For one thing, it’s free. The moment Atenews stops putting a pile of it near the elevators, Ateneo will lose an important part of its identity. For another thing, it’s glossy, with quality far exceeding that of many of our textbooks.


It is also a distinct feature of Ateneo’s campus life. You watch out if your own work came out, or if your friend’s work came out, or if a work about you written by your stalker came out. Again. People are curious if there will be another scandalous story about an affair between teacher and his male student, or if two student writers will exchange poems and flirt in front of everybody again. People actually read it, so people write for it.


I can never forget the first time I got published in Banaag. It was in 2009 when I was still a little larva yet to become the beautiful cockroach I was meant to be. It was a story entitled ‘The Barefooted Girl.’ On the day the issue came out, I was rather disappointed because nobody was talking about it yet. And then, the next day, a classmate of mine approached me, crying, the issue with the first page of my story open in her hands. ‘Karlo,’ she said, ‘basahin mo gud ito na story. Makaiyak talaga masyado. True story gud siya.’ ‘Friend,’ I answered, ‘tignan mo gud sino nagsulat.’ Apparently she forgot to read the by line. But of course, without implying any medical condition, my liver blossomed with that reaction.


And Ateneo de Davao has been and continues to be a garden of the blossoming livers of aspiring writers for decades because of Banaag Diwa. Many students became campus names because their works appeared in Banaag: Karla Singson, Duane Gravador, Krisini Nanini, Paul Gumanao, Reymond Pepito. There probably more now that I am too old to know of. Last year’s inaugural awards already produced student writers to watch out for: just to mention the one example I am aware of, Reil Benedict Obinque had gone on to publish several works in the Davao Writers Guild’s Dagmay.


Yes, much of the works that come out in Banaag are rough, I’m the first to admit that: sappy love poems that copy paste from Justin Bieber, or stories with convoluted language that nobody could understand. But Banaag is for beginners, and all writers begin by producing rough works. Nobody starts off by writing like a Nobel Prize winner. Not even Nobel Prize winners. Why should we be judged as Palanca Hall of Famers right from the get-go? We have the right to commit mistakes. Banaag is the hallowed nursery of our creative beginnings and growth. Honi soit qui mal y pense: evil be to him who thinks evil of it.


But I’d like us to celebrate tonight by focusing on two things.
First, let us celebrate and remember the fact that these young writers we honour tonight define Ateneo de Davao’s culture. They articulate and influence the values and aspirations of the current generation of the university. Percy Byshe Shelley once declared that writers are ‘the unsung legislators of mankind.’ Nowhere is that demonstrated best than with the theme of this year’s Banaag: Kayamanan. Our student writers are serving to articulate and define what matters most to the Atenista.


Let me just add that while generations of Ateneo de Davao writers, this year’s awardees included, have done well to articulate and enrich local identity, there is still need to develop this further. We need to write more local stories. That first story of mine that appeared in Banaag, ‘the Barefooted Girl,’ had the novelty of being set in this very campus, and it proved popular exactly because it was set in familiar places, dealt with familiar themes. Nothing could be easier or more fulfilling than delving into the realities that are immediately before you. As that first great Ateneo de Davao student writer Leoncio Deriada always said, ‘write what you know,’ or as that other great Ateneo de Davao student writer Macario Tiu put it, ‘bakit ka nagasulat niyang mga taga-Pennsylvania. Ilagay mo yang kwento mo sa Panacan.’


And on that note, I enjoin all student writers: read what has been written about your school by the writers who came before you. Ateneo de Davao has a veritable pantheon of student and teacher writers who have walked its halls: Leoncio Deriada, Aida Rivera-Ford, Alfredo Salanga, Macario Tiu, Don Pagusara, Joey Ayala, Dominique Cimafranca, Meghan Hamile. To be good writers you must be readers, and to be good Ateneo de Davao writers you must be readers of Ateneo de Davao literature.


But second and more importantly, let us remember that this night is above all a milestone for the individual writer. When a writer writes, he not only strives to create a good work, he strives to create himself. ‘Whát I do is me,’ writes that great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.


And yet rarely is this self creation rewarded –creativity demands uniqueness, and the unique are often treated like nails sticking out of the wood. Writing is a lonely endeavour, and writers are often lonely people.


But tonight we witness these young writers draw flame. They will set us on fire. Tonight is the night for that geek in third year high school who sat at the back of chemistry class to scribble his lesbian short story about the two prettiest girls in class. Tonight is the night for that weirdo who used up all his Filipino notebook drafting his novel about fallen angels. Tonight is the night for that nerd who only gets noticed in class when the English teacher requires a stage play and somebody needs to write a script.


Tonight these neglected little larvae will become the beautiful cockroaches they were meant to be. They are beginning their flight to greatness – what is more captivating than a cockroach taking flight! They will get published more, they will be fellows to writers workshops, they will win more awards!


And how eagerly we will wait to see what they will write for us next.


Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the 2015 Banaag Diwa Awards. Good evening.

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