Those who follow the Philippine literary community know Angelo “Sarge” Lacuesta as one of the country’s top fictionists. Since he emerged in the 1990s, his mentors and peers have noted the unmistakable cadences in his language and the sharp, skillful delineation of his characters, hailing him as one of his generation’s best.
The awards Lacuesta has collected for his short fiction clearly prove his immense talent. The Palanca, National Book Award, Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book prize, Philippines Graphic’s Nick Joaquin Literary Award—it seems he has won every national literary prize available.
It is then, perhaps, natural for some to ask: What’s next for the 47-year-old advertising executive and author of Life Before X and Other Stories, White Elephants: Stories, and Flames and Other Stories?
Lacuesta himself answered that question late last month at the famed Solidaridad Book Shop of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil José. There, he launched not only his fourth book of short fiction, Coral Cove and Other Stories (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House), but more significantly, his first collection of essays, A Waiting Room Companion (Ateneo de Manila University Press).
UST Publishing House describes Coral Cove as containing “stories that take place in the clouded past, the urgent present, and the dark future—yet all seem to happen in the same timeframe and state of mind.”
Among the 11 stories in the book, the title story and “Sparrows” are particularly noteworthy; both won the Joaquin prize in 2016 and 2013, respectively.
Lacuesta “is our top story fiction writer in these parts—the best, most brilliant bounty for our culture to celebrate…as demonstrated of late in his newly collected modernist ficciones; one more proof of his fiction mastery,” celebrated fictionist and essayist Gregorio Brillantes wrote of the author in a blurb.
One of Lacuesta’s contemporaries, Clinton Palanca, called him “the most authentic voice among Filipino fictionists working today.”
Another, Noelle de Jesus, wrote that the stories in Lacuesta’s latest collection “are just what need to be told to those who do not know and those who do not remember: perfect for where we are right now, as a people, as a country.”
As for A Waiting Room Companion AdMU Press Director Karina Bolasco admitted during the launch that she liked him more “as a essayist than as a fictionist.”
Noting that “essay-writing is normally [an]osmotic process,” Bolasco said “a person intuitively takes in facts and ideas, [and]allows preformed, even confused thoughts to gestate in the unconscious mind, and here is where Lacuesta [as]essayist makes his mark.”
“He consciously places the strands of language and logic in an orderly and expressive form,” she added.
“Every sentence [he writes]takes Sarge deeper into the jungle of the mind, into unexpected places, a world of hard inconsistencies created by our waking lives’ deep need to make the outside world of chaos conform to our convenience,” the publisher said.
“So elegantly he employs descriptive words, metaphors and symbols, of which our lives are full of, given by nature and faith, which touch upon the mystical and spiritual aspects of life,” she added.
According to Lacuesta, the inspiration for A Waiting Room Companion came from Palanca, specifically from his essay collection The Mad Tea Party, where he took his newspaper columns and assembled them into a book, and reorganized them.
“What I did was I took a lot of the essays I wrote for [Esquire] magazine and [rewrote]them into very personal essays,” the author said.
He cited an earlier piece on cars as an example, which, he realized, had been transformed as an essay detailing his “history in cars,” which reflected his middle-class upbringing.
“I spent a lot of time in cars as a youth, not just riding them or driving them,” the writer said.
“You can’t help but be honest when you write a personal essay. And when you write an essay, you really have to kill your ego, meaning you’re not showing off. You’re not even showing off your experience,” Lacuesta said.
“As a writer, you know that somebody else has gone through worse things, or better things, and you really have to use the singularity of your own experience to talk about it,” he added.
Although many have encouraged him to start writing a novel, Lacuesta said he “chose to remain in the short story, [because]first of all, it’s a matter of convenience for me.”
“Also, I like to think that the short story is a Filipino form, much like the short novel is a Japanese form, for example,” he added.
Whatever genre Lacuesta chooses to write in from this point forward, be it fiction or creative nonfiction, one thing is certain: he would continue to write perceptive prose that can pierce souls, write luminous narratives that illuminate minds. And Philippine literature would continue to benefit from it.
Coral Cove and Other Stories and A Waiting Room Companion are now available in bookstores.