A new Mojares Reader, pride of place, and all manner of storytelling projects in the Cebu Lit Fest 2015
By Isolde Amante
IT DAWNS on us, while Jessica Zafra interviews the writer and historian Resil Mojares during the Cebu Literary Festival, that he has spent nearly 50 years writing about Cebuano history, literature, and the Cebuano community.
A list of all the books and articles he has published fills 25 pages in “The Resil Mojares Reader”, which the University of San Carlos (USC) Press launched during the festival. All but the most dedicated Mojares fans might be surprised to see 13 short stories, published from 1966 to 1971, on that list. He has so far declined attempts to release these short stories as a collection because he “is not convinced that they’re worth publishing.” (What?)
And then Dr. Mojares gives a more expansive response. After the stories saw print in The Philippines Free Press and Graphic magazines, he suddenly received his first rejection slip from Nick Joaquin, who thought that the young writer “had run out of things to say and was mainly doing literary fancy footwork.” (That was true, Mojares concedes.) So the ambitious, illuminating scholarship for which Mojares is now known began as an effort to find material. Or as Mojares puts it, “How do you deepen that base out of which you can write?”
The Cebu Lit Fest offered many moments like that, offerings of advice and instruction for attentive readers and aspiring writers to mine. Spread over nine hours last June 20 in a crowded passage of the Ayala Center, the festival gave writers, teachers and readers the opportunity to talk about or read from their literary projects, whether recently completed or still ongoing.
Zafra, before her onstage interview with Mojares, launched two books, including the collection “The Stories So Far.” Tim Tomlinson of The New York Writers Workshop showed it was possible to introduce aspects of the writing craft (the use of setting, in this case) without being stuffy. Panels that included the teacher and writer Hope Sabanpan-Yu, serial Palanca Award winner Ian Rosales Casocot, and filmmaker-writer Bambi Beltran and musician-journalist Insoy Niñal talked, respectively, about teaching literature in the Philippines; writing about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience; and writing in the Mother Tongue.
The panels were so rich that each one of them, like the poetry discussion Tomlinson moderated, featuring Larry Ypil, Nikay Paredes, and Judge Jun Dumdum, could have filled the whole day by themselves.
Carlos Celdran talked about how he translated his love of Manila and history into his two performance pieces-slash-walking tours centered on Intramuros and the projects of Imelda Marcos. (“You see, I have my Noli and my Fili,” he quips.) Taking to social media a few hours after his session “The City as a Story”, Celdran gave the Lit Fest a positive review, calling it well-organized, well-curated and inspiring. One of the presentations that he found particularly interesting was a pecha kucha (a quick presentation of 20 slides, flashed for 20 seconds each) by Boboi Costas, who talked about how the Aloguinsan river tour has not only contributed to community-based eco-tourism, but also helped local fishermen find voice as storytellers.
What other stories will reveal themselves in the next Lit Fest? Who knows what else the organizers, Hendri Go of Little Boy Productions and Director Hope Sabanpan-Yu of USC’s Cebuano Studies Center, will cook up? Go says his hope is that the Lit Fest will inspire more people “to read more, write more, tell more stories, be it books, film, music, theater or performance art.”
One of the impressions this year was how so much material remains unexplored. History, for one, “is a fertile field for literary writers,” says Mojares, who adds that he has yet to find “a truly memorable novel about Martial Law.” One could almost imagine the writers in the passage that day begin plotting.