Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Novelist and poet Margaret Atwood wrote, “A word after a word after a word is power.”
Though arguably not as visible as their male counterparts, Filipina authors have been a part of the Philippines’ rich history of literature. In “The History of Filipino Women’s Writings,” Finnish writer Riitta Vartti asserts: “The development of women's writing is tied to the history of the country and the language question — from oral tradition to silencing of women under Spanish rule, from the English period under American rule to the date when more literature is written in vernacular.”
No matter what medium or language, women — Filipino women — have always found a way to tell stories and the specific histories of their thoughts, their environments, the spaces in which they live.
In celebration of Women’s Month, CNN Philippines Life asked women writers — their genres ranging from romance to horror to poetry — to recommend important works of Filipina authors that they feel need to be read more widely and by more people.
Mara Coson is a writer of non-fiction, short fiction, and a variety of zines. She is also the managing editor of The Manila Review, a quarterly non-profit publication she co-founded in 2012.
“For me it's definitely Kerima Polotan's ‘The True and the Plain.’ Kerima Polotan is a master at writing about everyday life. As she writes about motherhood and initial encounters, she passes through the humdrum with hilarious detail, and nails all the itches, scratches, and tics that come with being witness.”
Mina V. Esguerra
Mina V. Esguerra, an author of contemporary romance, young adult, and new adult novellas, has recommended a handful of titles that fall in the same genres, but break through some of the tired tropes that they often fall back on:
“Choco Chip Hips” by Agay Llanera
“Heartwarming, and will make you crave cookies and veggies. It's about a teenage girl who's overweight but loves baked goods — and also dancing. You'll need tissues handy too!”
“Don't Tell My Mother” by Brigitte Bautista
“We write and read a lot of romance in the Philippines but very few are F/F (about female/female relationships). But this book is about that, finally, and it's a joy to read. It may be a difficult read for some too, but as a romance it's still very uplifting, and hopeful. And brave.”
“If the Dress Fits” by Carla de Guzman
“The main character in this book is a fabulous plus-size woman. That alone gives a new layer of meaning to this best friends-to-lovers romance, because while confident in her career and looks, she can't seem to believe that handsome Max could love her. It's lovely to read how she finds out how wrong she is.”
“Keeping the Distance” by Clarisse David
“The first book is this YA series is about the unlikely relationship that forms between the high school serial dater and the seemingly prim-and-proper principal's daughter. There's banter, and pranks, and one-upmanship that escalates until it's young love. A plus: this book and the rest of the planned series is set entirely in Iloilo.”
“The Takedown Trilogy” by Bianca Mori
"Mori has written YA, chick lit, and contemporary romance — and also romantic suspense. Her trilogy starts with a novella, and each succeeding book expands the world and ups the stakes. It's action-movie fun, and also sexy-hot.”
Marie La Viña
Marie La Viña is a poet and the recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award in 2017.
“Although I admit my reading of Filipina authors has been somewhat limited, I do have some favorites. Growing up I returned often to Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s ‘The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker,’ the plays of Elsa Martinez Coscolluela and poems by Ophelia A. Dimalanta. In those days my reading was very much influenced by my mom’s particular tastes and inclinations, a fact I’d come to appreciate later.
As far as novels go, Jessica Hagedorn’s ‘The Gangster of Love’ and Marivi Soliven’s ‘The Mango Bride’ are two of my favorites. For short fiction, Tara F.T. Sering’s ‘Reconnaissance’ and, more recently, ‘In the Country’ by Mia Alvar, whose stories are to me both familiar and at times startling and strange, expertly interlacing faces, names, places and (pre)occupations to take readers into the lives of her characters, often Filipinos, caught in the warp and weft of sociohistorical forces around the world. Finally, as I write this, Mila De Guzman’s ‘Women Against Marcos’ is on my nightstand and next on my list.”
Yvette Tan is a lifestyle writer and award-winning transrealism author whose work has appeared in Esquire Philippines, Rogue Magazine, and Preview Magazine, among others. She has authored two short story collections, “Waking the Dead” and “Kaba.”
“I credit part of my interest in food writing to Doreen Fernandez. I used to read her column when I could (we subscribed to a different newspaper and there was no internet then) and later, her books. She made me realize that food is an important part of culture and history, that food was a worthy subject to be written about, and that Filipino food should be an important part of historical and social discourse. It's not a big deal now, but it was a super big thing back then, when very few people were doing it.”
Eliza Victoria is the author of several books including the Philippine National Book Award-winning “Dwellers” (2014), the novel “Wounded Little Gods” (2016), and the graphic novel “After Lambana” (2016, a collaboration with Mervin Malonzo). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several online and print publications. Visit her at http://elizavictoria.com.
"Conchitina Cruz’s first poetry collection, ‘Dark Hours,’ came out in 2005, and I read it two years later, during my last year in UP Diliman, incidentally before the semester I was to take Poetry II (Imagery) as an elective. I can’t remember now if it was the book that pushed me to enroll in the elective, or if it was the elective that led me to pick up the book. Memory is a strange thing. What I do remember: the large tarp outside the Faculty Center (engulfed by flames in 2016) announcing and celebrating her National Book Award win for the collection, and a friend back in my own college saying that Conchitina Cruz was her professor for a GE (General Education) class, that she’s called 'Chingbee,' and that she was 'young and bubbly.' I have never seen the author, so, just basing on the name, I pictured her as a Professor Emeritus type. Certainly not ‘young and bubbly.’ When I found out she was young, I felt a closer affinity to the text. I realized that the city Chingbee was describing in ‘Dark Hours’ was the city of the here and now (circa 2005 — but then nothing much has changed).
One of my favorite poems from that collection was 'Geography Lesson' (I can’t find an official copy online, but you can read it here), chiefly because it presented an insight I was grappling with at the time — the futility of art in the face of disaster. It was a poem about tragedy that did not romanticize the tragedy, that did not congratulate itself, that recognized itself as an observer, useless and separate. (We are inside the story, and to the students outside, I say, sure, come on in.) It was a brilliant juxtaposition of class, of an individual’s despair with the despair of a hundred deaths. (A few miles away, the residents of a dumpsite are dead, their bodies buried in an avalanche of trash. Inside the story, the woman cries, what will happen to me now?)
This was the first collection by a local poet that I found did not depend on 'Spectacular Insight.' (You know the formula: details, details, Insight! Epiphany! End poem.) Sometimes there is no Spectacular Insight to be had in tragedy. Sometimes, most times, there’s just this terrible thing that happened, and you’re left buried in the ruins, trying to find light however way you can.
'Dark Hours' was initially published by the UP Press; it is now being published by the Youth & Beauty Brigade. Email them at [email protected] to order. While you’re at it, you can read the first part of Chingbee’s three-part essay, which also talks about the value of the written word, and its limits."