A pair of young women won the grand prizes at the novel and nobela categories of the bi-annual Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Both first time entrants in the prestigious competition, they are Victorette Joy Campilan, 32, for English novel, and 20-year-old Charmaine Mercader Lasar for Filipino nobela.
Held at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Manila Peninsula on September 1, the 65th Palanca Awards was a resounding success.
Entries for this year reached an all-time high at 895 for all 22 categories.
“New talents outnumbered the veterans—at least for this year,” said Criselda Cecilio-Palanca of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. The winning pieces came from 33 first time awardees out of the 57 awardees. The winning works, meanwhile, were counted at 58 with one author winning in two categories.
According to Palanca, younger people joining and succeeding in the awards is a very promising sign that they will receive quality writing for decades to come.
She happily confessed to being mistaken that for a time, the awards had doubted the millenial’s ability to take on any prodigious work.
Victorette Joy Campilan who won the English Novel category revealed that her piece All my Lonely Islands is 30 percent her personal story. A graduate of Communication Research at the University of the Philippines, she admitted her novel started as a writing exercise for her Master’s Degree in a Creative Writing course at Dela Salle University in 2014.
Campilan, who lived in Bangladesh for four years while she was growing up, said winning a Palanca is a blessing, but garnering the grand prize is “divine intervention.”
Meanwhile, Charmaine Mercader Lasar who won for her Filipino Nobela learned about the prestigious Palanca through a friend in Wattpad, an online story-telling social platform for budding writers.
According to the 20-year-old, she finished her nobela Toto O. in just a single month. “The story is an exploration of truth and reality,” Lasar explained.
An accounting graduate from Lyceum Laguna, she has published 17 short stories and two novels in Wattpad.
The other 33 first-time winners of the 65th Palanca Awards come from different localities within the Philippines and abroad. (See complete list of winners)
The Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature is the longest-running literary awards not only in the country but in Southeast Asia.
Fittingly, National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, who gave an impromptu inspirational talk at the beginning of the awards night, recalled his own first time experience in winning a Palanca in 1958. He was very grateful for the P1,000 cash prize, which he received with coveted title “Palanca awardee.”
“We used the P700 to buy a fridge,” he said as he added that back in the day, to have a ‘frigidaire’ was a status symbol, and the appliance was even displayed in a family’s living room together with the children’s diplomas.
But more importantly for Jose, winning a Palanca has always served as an inspiration for many writers to be they can be—just like he did.
Indeed, the Palanca Awards, named in honor of businessman and philanthropist Don Carlos Palanca Sr., and established in 1950, has helped develop Philippine literature by providing incentives for writers to craft their most outstanding literary works, as well as serve as a treasury of Philippine literary gems.
Over the years, the Palanca Awards has awarded 2,200 authors of 2,278 winning works. Moreover, 25 have been elevated to the Palanca Hall of Fame for winning five first prizes each.
Dangal ng Lahi Awards
One of the highlights of the event was the awarding of the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi to Dr. Geminio Abad, this year’s guest of honor and speaker. A professor emeritus of literature at the University of the Philippines, Dr. Abad has established himself as an eminent poet, essayist, fictionist and editor of several literary anthologies. He has helped shape the larger corpus of contemporary literature by contributing his own body of work and mentoring many students of literature.
The Gawad Dangal ng Lahi honors individuals who have excelled in their particular fields and who share with writers the “common thread of manifesting belief in the capabilities of the Filipino and expressing their pride in the heritage of the Philippines.”
Before accepting the award, Abad read his essay The Poem Is What You Will, which he said was a tribute to Don Carlos Palanca.
In his speech, Abad talked about the importance and power of language: “Without language, the finest invention of the human imagination, there is no memory, no history, no culture, no civilization.”
And the prolific professor that he is, he also reminded the audience what it really means to be a writer: “Writing then, is also work of translation: you ferry or bear across the river of words—a given language lexicon where the words only read one another and echo their provenance or etymologies. You ferry across that river of words your own soul’s burden without hurt or injury to mind’s import and aim. That work of translation is also work of imagination, which has limitless possibilities.”
For Abad, any literary work is an interpretation of a human experience. He said, “All we know of our reality, what we call ‘our works,’ is our experience of it: our experience of ourselves, of human affairs, of our natural environment.”
He further challenged the writers in the audience: “He (the writer) must work the language even as the farmer works the soil to produce his crop. As the writer works the language, he might also note that the ground of the language he employs is his people’s culture and history, their day-to-day living in their own time and space.”
Abad served as chairman of the poetry category in this year’s competition.
Roster of judges
This year’s Palanca Awards featured a distinguished panel of judges for each contest category. Each panel was comprised of individuals noted for their excellence in their respective fields of literature.
A total of 63 authors, poets, academics, theater personalities, and other accomplished literary critics brought in their wealth of experience and individual perspectives in evaluating the submissions to the 65th Palanca Awards. (See related list of board of judges)