THE only people who ended up saying sad things about the first Cebu Literary Festival 2014 last June 27 were those who missed it. Indeed, they missed a lot.
Many writers tend to keep to themselves or move in small, sympathetic circles. So it was quite the accomplishment for Hendri Go of Little Boy Productions and Hope Sabanpan-Yu of the Cebuano Studies Center to gather not just a group of writers, but also songwriters, editors, artists and educators.
What held this diverse band together was a shared love of stories: writing them, telling them, bringing them to life in illustrations or sculpture. Seeking them, wherever these stories may hide.
Cattleya Vanessa Espina — Cattski to her friends and fans — relived those moments when her bemusement with a potential significant other’s musical preferences led her to write the song “Rock N’ Roll”. (“Let me be your rock n’ roll/ Let me be the one to break down all your walls.”)
For Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, the fount waited in a more distant past: her memories of growing up in Cebu, when the absence of an Internet connection meant having to entertain themselves by reading, engaging in “imaginative play” and taking long walks or drives, sometimes past a disreputable bar where they caught glimpses of “colorful girls and their sailor-boyfriends.”
“Cebu’s uniqueness, richness and funkiness have inspired much of my writing, and I am very grateful for this,” Brainard said. Many stories she overheard “fired the imagination” and found their way into her first novel, “When the Rainbow Goddess Wept”, set in the Second World War in Mindanao and the fictive locales of Ubec.
The poet Lawrence Lacambra Ypil drew from material set even farther back in the past for his current project. Easily one of the highlights of the first CebuLitFest, Ypil’s presentation included the treat of hearing him recite his poems, while the sepia photographs that inspired them hovered in the background. The photographs were of the Philippine Village in the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis, when thousands of “native” Filipinos were shipped to Missouri in order for Americans to gaze at their ritual dances, their jewelry and their strangeness.
Ypil’s new poems take off from that “moment of contact between me, a Cebuano in 2014, and those photographs from 1904.” And in what now feels like something preordained, when Ypil moved from St. Louis to Iowa to continue his studies, he found that the natural history museum there had acquired all the artifacts from the 1904 exposition. So then he had the unusual privilege of handling those long-abandoned objects — a spear, a wooden ladle, a pair of striped shorts — and listening as the poems (among them, “How to say your name in a foreign tongue” and “How to catch your prey”) revealed themselves.
The celebration ended with the launch of Sabanpan-Yu’s latest book (her 22nd!), “The Other(ed) Woman”, and a music and poetry jam. We thank Go, Yu and all their collaborators for the enriching day that was CebuLitFest, and look forward to its iterations for years and years to come.