NAGA CITY, Philippines—Bicol’s literary world is entering a “renaissance” period as new books and other works emerge due to growing writers’ interest and access to publishing houses.
“Contrary to the popular notion that Bikol lit is dead, our literary world has been breathing all throughout,” said Jason Chancoco, author and recipient of national and local literary citations.
The revival is a flashback of the “golden age” of Bikol literature before World War II when Naga City’s printing press published periodicals with literary pieces in Bicol and the community theater staged the “comedia” in town plazas, according to Vic Nierva, a 2007 National Book awardee.
That era was documented in “Bikols of the Philippines,” a Bicol literary history book written by Lilia Realubit, another National Book awardee, Gawad Balagtas conferee, and retired literature professor of the University of the Philippines.
Today, Chancoco said that in Naga alone, 16 publications, periodicals, and websites were carrying Bicol writings and literary pieces. These include the Bikol Reporter, Bicol Mail, Bangraw, Burak, Ani, Hingowa, The Pillars, Pegasus, T-Bloc, Dalityapi Unpoemed, A critical Survey of Philippine Literature, Muse, and Apprentice.
Similar works are found in the sections of e-Manila, panitikan.com.ph, and oragon.republic.net.
Essayist Adrian Remodo, 2008 first prize winner of the Salita ng Taon of the Filipinas Institute of Translation, suggested that the Bikol renaissance actually began in the 1980s, when preliminary efforts were made to retrieve and compile written works and oral folklore.
Remodo credited Realubit’s anthology of early Bikol literature and the new contemporary voices for the resurgence of interest of young writers, who have found a channel for their works in fiction, poetry, drama, and essay.
For the past six years, the Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon has served writers in Bikol. It pays homage to Arejola, a less known Bicolano propagandist from Naga and contemporary of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal and Juan Luna in the Propaganda Movement in Spain.
It was put up by descendants of the local hero through the Arejola Foundation for Social Progress.
Last year, the Surian ng Wika launched and held a literary writing contest in Bicol. Young writers from five of the six provinces in the region joined.
Since 2001, Naga-based writers have published literary books every year. New names have come out, mostly young writers like Carlo Arejola, Jaime Jesus Borlagdan, Jason Chancoco, Kristian Cordero, Alvin Yapan, Estelito Jacob, and Adrian Remodo.
This year, seven Bicol books will be launched.
Kristian Cordero, poet and fictionist, said a growing number of Bicol writers, in English or in Filipino, had been making names for themselves in the national and international literary circles for the past five years.
Among the luminaries he cited was Abdon Balde, a fiction writer from Oas town in Albay who uses Bicol as backdrop and setting.
Balde has received the National Book Award several times and the Jaime Laya Best Book for fiction for his collection of short stories (“Cavalry Road” and “Mayong”) and novels in Filipino.
Most of the novels find roots, characters, and sensibility from the region. His latest novel is “Awit ni Kadunung,” the first in a trilogy.
Cordero also cited poet Luis Cabalquinto, who hails from Magarao town in Camarines Sur and whose poem “Hometown” appears in United States college literature and textbooks.
Cabalquinto is based in New York and was a finalist in last year’s National Book Award.
Multidisciplinary artist Merlinda Bobis from Albay is among the poets, fiction writers, and performers who carry the feminine voice in interpreting Bicol through her books, Cordero said.
Her latest work is the “Banana Heart Summer” (Anvil: Philippine Edition), published in Australia and the US.
Like Balde’s, Bobis’s novel digs into the rich material of her region.