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  • A November of books

    By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    It’s almost the end of November, which is Philippine Book Development Month as mandated by law and the Department of Education’s National Reading Month. And happily, many book-related events continue to take place.

    Just this week, also National Book Week, there was the congress of the Philippine Library Association. On the birth anniversary of Ninoy Aquino on Nov. 27, storytelling sessions in public and elementary schools in Quezon City highlighted Araw ng Pagbasa, an annual reading advocacy program that Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal initiated in 2008 when he was city councilor. In 2009 it became a citywide campaign that has continued to this day, and hopefully throughout the country since it was signed into law in 2013. The choice of making Araw ng Pagbasa coincide with Ninoy Aquino’s birthday is deliberate as he was known to be a voracious reader.

    The Edsa People Power Commission also celebrated Araw ng Pagbasa with the launch of “Isang Harding Papel,” a book for children written by Augie Rivera and illustrated by Rommel Joson. The story gives readers a view of the martial law years. The book is the second of three that the commission is producing in collaboration with Adarna Publishing House (the first is the counting and history book “Edsa” by Russell Molina and Sergio Bumatay III).

    On Friday, Save the Children and First Read, in partnership with De La Salle Green Hills, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, Prudence Foundation and the National Book Development Board (NBDB), held a Children’s Book and Literary Festival, Bulilit Fest.

    Today (Saturday), Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan has its INK Fest, a daylong conference that celebrates “creativity in children’s literature and illustration” with a star-studded roster of speakers: Manix Abrera, Robert Alejandro, Ray Vi Sunico, and visiting New-York-based illustrator Pepper Roxas.

    Also today, the Nonfiction Writing Workshop for Teens (13-17) is being offered free of charge by De La Salle University’s Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center and the NBDB. Students will learn techniques in writing a creative nonfiction work either in English or in Filipino.

    And don’t think that all these are mainly Metro Manila happenings. I am happy and extremely proud to report that also this week, a major literary event focusing on Bikol authors and literature was held at Ateneo de Naga.

    The day after receiving their bounty of awards at the 33rd National Book Awards, Kristian Sendon Cordero who received an award for best poetry in Filipino and another for poetry in Bikol, Paz Verdades M. Santos, H. Francisco V. Peñones Jr., Victor Dennis T. Nierva, and Fr. Wilmer Tria, SJ, head of the progressive Ateneo de Naga University Press, headed home because they had scheduled a first-ever Bikol Bookfest.

    These authors expressed their pride in how their language has allowed them to express their deep and insightful sentiments in unique ways, demonstrating to them and to readers the rich possibilities of the Bikol language. Consider this as living proof: Nierva won for best translation of John Donne’s poetry, an awesome feat given the complexity of the metaphysical poems.

    Another Philippine language, Kinaray-a, got a boost with the launch of a picture book in Iloilo by Early Sol Gadong and illustrated by Mark Lawrence Andres. This is published by Balay Sugidanun Publishing (The House of Storytelling) founded by Genevieve Asenjo.

    With all that November has brought and the selection of the National Book Awards of the Manila Critics Circle, bringing to prominence the most outstanding books of 2013 in more than 20 categories in English, Filipino and, this year, in Bikol, many questions beg to be addressed.

    How do these excellent books reach the hands of many more Filipinos as well as the Asean community that offers many new possibilities starting next year? Drawing from high fantasy guru Ursula Le Guin’s remarks at the American National Book Awards last week, we need “writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.”

    How then do we successfully combine commerce and art in books? If the Philippines clearly has no dearth of literary and creative talent, why is this not better known and appreciated in the country, by our Asean neighbors, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and the rest of the world? Why are these books not read or known by Filipinos?

    Aside from the obvious need to market ourselves better, much work still needs to be done toward a thriving Philippine publishing industry.

    Without the government proclamations and mandates, would we have all this fuss about books? I am convinced that the literary calendar would still be as busy, because we have a growing corps of committed and impassioned readers among the youth.

    But the designations that often seem redundant (just consider: a Philippine Book Development Month, a National Reading Month, a National Book Week, an Araw ng Pagbasa) continue to be helpful as reminders to all sectors to devote the month to books and reading. We can never emphasize books enough, as there is no disputing what a culture of reading does to a nation.

    If only November lasted all year…

    Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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