“Don’t give it up kung talagang gusto ninyo [if you really want it]. No matter what kind of criticism you get—even if you are called the lousiest writer in this country.”
This was the message of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose to aspiring, young Filipino writers gathered at his Solidaridad Bookshop in Ermita, Manila. Long considered a landmark, Solidaridad that opened in 1965, served as the opening venue of the National Book Development Board’s Pinoy Bookstore Tour on April 8.
Once young, aspiring and even suffering from hardships himself, the prolific Filipino author also advised his audience that if they are truly serious in writing, the first step they should take is to improve themselves, after which they can latch on to an idea and devote their time.
He also lectured the young writers “to set aside their egos.” He explained, “All of us are egoists. We write from our lives, from all our experiences. But it is very important to transcend your ego . . . And the best way to do that is to identify yourself with your fellowmen, with your country, with the events that are transpiring.”
The epitome of his words, Jose is known internationally for works that capture the essence of Philippine history—among them the award-winning Rosales Saga, which is comprised of five novels namely The Pretenders, Tree, My Brother, My Executioner, Mass and Poon.
Thus, he encouraged young writers to take on the role of “keepers of memories.”
“Ang malungkot sa atin [what’s sad about us], Filipinos have no memory,” Jose said. “[That is why] one of the functions of a real writer is to keep that memory. To broadcast it so that people will not only have knowledge of themselves but of the past.”
This, he mentioned, is very timely as the country gears up for the May 2016 national elections. His hope is that incidents like the Marcos dictatorship will never be repeated.
Asked by The Sunday Times Magazine what he thinks of the Filipino youth in general, Jose answered that as cliché as it may sound, they are indeed the “pag-asa ng bayan” (hope of the nation).
He lamented, however, “We are a young country but the problem is that not all young Filipinos are imbued with the sense of nation. Maraming idealists when they are young pero kapag tumanda na sila, lalo na kung nakatikim na sila ng power and money, nalimutan na nila ang pinanggalingan nila [There are many idealists when they are young, but as they age, especially once they taste power and money, forget where they came from].
“If you really want to be Filipinos, commit yourselves not only to your literature or to your art but also to your country,” he ended.
Jose was also joined by Filipino authors John Jack Wigley, Marne Kilates and Nikki Alfar for the Pinoy Bookstore Tour discussion.
In celebration of the Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa (National Literature Month), the three-day Pinoy Bookstore Tour also visited artbooks.ph in Mandaluyong City and Uno Morato in Quezon City after Solidaridad in Ermita. On the second day, it traveled north to Pandayan Bookshop in Bulacan and Orchids Bookstore in Pampanga. The tour culminated at Mt. Cloud Bookshop all the way in Baguio City. Each bookstore/shop featured talks by writers and publishers.