After being sidelined for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards (NJLA) made a much-awaited comeback before almost a hundred members of the Philippine literary community.
Held at the Winford Manila Resort and Casino on May 4, during the birthday of the late National Artist and former Philippines Graphic editor-in-chief Nick Joaquin, NJLA 2023 welcomed veteran and budding short story writers, poets, and essayists, including theater actors who acted in the plays of Nick Joaquin.
NJLA 2023 selected three of the best short stories and one poem that were published between February 2022 and January 2023 in the Philippines Graphic Reader, a companion magazine of the Philippines Graphic.
Hailed as the top winners among 48 short story entries were “Ceferina in Apt. 2G” by Ian Rosales Casocot (1st prize), “Barcelona Is My Name” by Criselda Yabes (2nd prize), and “Blood and Gold in Benguet” by Richard Giye (3rd prize).
Poet F. Jordan Carnice was awarded the Poet of the Year for his “Four Poems for the Future,” selected from 48 poetry entries.
Respected fictionists and poets of the Philippine literary community—led by Jose “Butch” Dalisay (chair), Susan Lara, and Marra PL. Lanot, editor of the Philippines Graphic Reader—served as judges in this year’s NJLA.
HOLDING THEIR OWN
Butch Dalisay, a multi-awarded short story writer, novelist, essayist, and educator, said that on the whole, he was “encouraged by the emergence of winning and shortlisted entries that could hold their own in any competition and made the whole enterprise worthwhile.”
Dalisay added: “There is clearly a need, in my mind, for aspiring writers to return to a more formal study of literary craft, especially in this age of the internet, when self-expression and self-publication can be granted instantaneously. Mastery of language and form take study and practice; a natural talent is always possible and welcome, but even so it will need to be disciplined and refined.”
Of the top three short stories, Susan Lara said, “Ceferina in Apt. 2G” by Ian Casocot showed “mastery of form and content” as a “poignant story of a mother navigating the delicate path to tacit acceptance of her son’s sexual orientation.”
“Ceferina in Apt. 2G” attracts and succeeds on many levels—as a story of maternal love, a story of adaptation to another country and its culture, and a story of coming into one’s own. It is told with great sensitivity and sympathy for the characters, without false sentimentality or treacly lyricism. It handles deep and powerful emotion with masterful control, Dalisay said.
Lara regarded “Barcelona Is My Name” by Criselda Yabes as “a story of revenge through the eyes of the awakening consciousness of the daughter of a jeepney driver, a victim of tokhang and the culture of violence under a bloodthirsty president.”
“Barcelona Is My Name,” Dalisay stressed, “not only captures the devaluation of human life in the time of tokhang, but also this violent interlude’s brutalization of the human mind and spirit, for both villain and the victim.”
Lara said that “Blood and Gold in Benguet” by Cordilleran writer Richard Giye is “an excruciatingly painful and cathartic story of sin and atonement.”
Dalisay found “Four Poems for the Future” as “a refreshing breadth of hopefulness, amidst the all-too-familiar dirges and lamentations of contemporary poetry.”
Philippines Graphic Reader editor Marra PL. Lanot said that “Four Poems for the Future” shows “a strong connection between individual and environment, between locality and universality, in a language the reader can easily relate to.”
Lanot said that “Ceferina in Apt. 2G” is “tops for its polished language as well as its refreshing and quiet approach to an LGBT issue.”
She cited “Barcelona Is My Name” as a story that stands out for its “timeliness and personal and social tension,” while “Blood and Gold in Benguet” comes strong for its “cinematic effect, shocking details, and insightful picture of mining on indigenous terrain.”
In his welcome address, Philippines Graphic, Graphic Reader, and BusinessMirror publisher T. Anthony C. Cabangon underscored the importance of publishing in connecting a writer to the public.
“For us, publication is the first hurdle of the writer who wants the public to read his work. Publication is the first level of the competition for public awareness. To breeze past the line-up of a hundred or more writers who submitted their works; to have your work chosen for publication—that is no mean feat. That deserves a Graphic Salute,” Cabangon said.
He announced that aside from giving awards, NJLA 2023 is giving a Graphic Salute plaque of recognition to literary writers whose works were published in the Philippines Graphic Reader from February 2022 to January 2023.
PATRON OF LITERATURE
Philippines Graphic and BusinessMirror chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon presented the Patron of Literature Award to business mogul and philanthropist Ramon S. Ang.
The plaque and the gold medal award of distinction recognized the generous corporate support of the San Miguel Corporation president and CEO to the NJLA and the Philippines Graphic Reader.
“In the season of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Miguel Corporation came to the rescue of the Philippines Graphic in 2022 and helped it give birth to the Philippines Graphic Reader. In recognition of San Miguel Corporation’s generous support—giving life to that chance for short story writers and poets to have their works published in the Graphic Reader—we award the Patron of Literature to Mr. Ramon S. Ang, president and CEO of San Miguel Corporation,” D. Edgard A. Cabangon said.
For his part, Ang said in a message to the NJLA that helping preserve the memory and the legacy of National Artist Nick Joaquin, who continues to inspire Filipino writers, serve as reasons for San Miguel Corporation’s “unwavering support of the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards and the Philippines Graphic all these years.”
Ang expounded: “Through both fiction and nonfiction, writers help people make sense of the world around them and even their own experiences. Novels, short stories, poems, songs, even journalistic pieces, are oftentimes meant to help troubleshoot if not repair relationships, correct wrongs in our society, or inspire people to action. In all these, I believe that one of the most important roles of most writers is to make present conditions better—whether through entertaining readers, enriching their understanding of topics and issues, or improving the way they look at things around them.”
The SMC president and CEO stressed that the stories of Nick Joaquin, a devoted San Miguel Beer lover, “made us look closer at ourselves, our society, our country—with optimism.”
“I am proud that we at San Miguel get to play a part in continuing his [Nick Joaquin’s] amazing story,” he concluded.
SUITE OF LITERATURE
Benjamin V. Ramos, president of Philippines Graphic and BusinessMirror, presented the Winford Manila Resort and Casino with the Suite of Literature Award for the hotel’s generous support as venue of NJLA 2023.
The award was received by Jami Ledesma, Winford Manila Resort and Casino corporate communications director.
The NJLA likewise gave the NJLA Support Champions for 2023 Award to nine firms under the ALC Corporation—the mother corporation of Philippines Graphic, Philippines Graphic Reader, and BusinessMirror.
These companies include: Fortune Life Insurance; Fortune Guaranty Insurance; Isuzu Gencars, Inc.; Asian Security & Investigation Agency; Eternal Gardens Memorial Park, Inc.; Red Falcon Detective Agency, Inc.; Citystate Savings Bank, Citystate Properties and Management Corporation; and Planbank.
Established in February 2022 through the generous support of San Miguel Corporation, the Philippines Graphic Reader is the first monthly literary magazine solely devoted to Philippine literature in English in the country.
All published literary works in the Philippines Graphic Reader automatically qualify as entries in the NJLA. A panel of judges made up of respected members of the Philippine literary community selects the winners and gives medals and cash awards to writers with the best short stories—first place (P50,000), second place (P30,000), third place (P20,000)—including the poet of the year (P15,000).
The Philippines Graphic will, shortly thereafter, compile all the published literary works into a book, the Philippines Graphic Reader, Book 1.