Words by Stacey Lee, Photos by Jeanne Dixon
Everyone who is anyone in the Filipino literary world will always have one name in mind when it comes to talking about the art of literature–Carlos Palanca, and his legendary legacy of the Palanca Awards. On the evening of September 1st, the Palanca family had invited and gathered the most prominent literary individuals and the winners of the awards to celebrate the 67th anniversary of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.
To those who have yet to familiarize themselves with the prestigious Palanca Awards, it is a countrywide competition, open to all ages, wherein those interested may submit their works of literature in the hopes of spiking the standards set to qualify for that of a Palanca Award. It is the longest running literary competition in the Philippines, named after the respected businessman and philanthropist, Don Carlos Palanca, Sr.
Those 18 and under enter the Kabataan Division, and those older in the regular ones. Some of the regular divisions include those for Short Stories, Novels, Poetry, and Plays–all in either the Filipino or English language. The Palanca Awards currently consist of 2,385 winning pieces, and growing every year. This year, they had over 900 entries into the competition; but only 55 had made it all the way into the event tonight.
Winners and guests slowly started to fill up the beautifully set up Rigodon Ballroom at The Peninsula Manila, their excitement heightening as they weaved their way through tables to get to their seats. Conversations and introductions buzzed through the air as waiters bustle around, no glass in sight empty. After dinner, guests had settled down into their seats as the host’s voice rang through the ballroom, welcoming everyone in to formally start the night.
The programme launched with a beautiful poetry reading by Professor Victor “Vic” Nadera, Jr. He delivered a mix of the three prize winners for this year’s Tula portion, his voice booming through the room, perfectly capturing the essence and showing everyone just why exactly they had come out on top.
An excerpt from the play “exesanonymous.com” – which won the second prize for this year’s Full Length Play category was set up for us after the poetry reading. The cast relayed their roles admiringly, embodying their characters wholly and enrapturing the audience with their captivating performance.
One of the most honorable parts of the night, aside from the actual awarding itself, was the speech by the Guest of Honor–Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr. Dalisay is a Palanca Award Hall of Famer and a prominent writer in the political scene. He walked us through his path to a Palanca, sharing the wisdom that life is not all about raking in your wins, but taking losses as well–an important and humbling life lesson that everyone will surely take to heart.
The numerous winners and their pieces are simply too overwhelming to enumerate them all, but the list of Palanca awardees are readily available online. The programme concluded with all the awardees posing for a photo opportunity on stage, each one proudly bearing their award with a beaming smile.
After waiting patiently, I got to speak with the Guest of Honour himself, Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay. As a response to my simple question of what he could possibly say to all those aspiring writers, novelists, and poets out there, he said:
“Write well, read well. Choose good models that you can learn from. If you try to write like them, it’s good – because at some point, you will find your own voice… and I think that’s when you can really call yourself a writer.”
I had also gotten a chance to converse with Mrs. Criselda “Dang” Cecilio-Palanca of the Palanca family, to whom I asked a question about how important this truly is to her family, and to the society. She mentioned how it was not only a privilege to be a part of this for her family, but also for the lives of writers as well. She hopes that they can “continue it on, so we can bless more writers and also honour them.”
It was beautiful, seeing such incredible minds come together to celebrate the art of writing. I take pride in the Philippines, knowing that we proudly immerse ourselves into the art and recognize it. Everyone had gone home that night with a fuller heart and an inspired mind, looking forward to more and more years of honoring the beauty that is Philippine literature.
“You write not only for the award, but you write because you love to write.”
-Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr.