Ateneo hosts Manila Reads Jose Garcia Villa as Toast to the Literature and Works of National Artists

May 11, 2021
Keisha Lamasan

Co-organized by The National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Ateneo University Press, Manila Reads Jose Garcia Villa is a nod to the timeless works of one of our National Artists in Literature.

The School of Humanities of the Ateneo de Manila University, the Ateneo University Press, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts hosted Manila Reads Jose Garcia Villa last April 23 as part of the National Literature Month celebration. Manila Reads Jose Garcia Villa is the second of this year’s two-part event for Reading the National Artists for Literature Series.
Since it began in 2019, Reading the National Artists for Literature Series has been hosted by different schools and universities all over the country. This year, aside from Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines also hosted its own event entitled Baguio Reads Carlos P. Romulo. “This series aspires to exemplify the brilliant works of the National Artists for Literature through webinars and online discourse,” says Keena Guarnes, Project Officer for the National Literature Month.
Jose Garcia Villa was a Filipino poet, writer, literary critic, and painter, whose most notable works include Footnote to Youth and Have Come, Am Here. In 1973, he was named National Artist of the Philippines in Literature, the first writer to receive such an honor alongside Amado V. Hernandez. To this day, Villa is read by numerous artists who then use his stories and poems as material for their own work in theater, dance, music, and television.

Images courtesy of Rizal Library Special Collections, Ateneo de Manila University

In his opening remarks, Dr. Michael Coroza, Chair of NCCA’s National Committee on Language and Translation and Chair of the Filipino Department highlights the significance of this series in instilling a deeper appreciation of our culture and the arts in our youth: “Pangunahing layunin po nito ang muling pagsipat sa buhay at higit sa lahat ng mga naiambag ng mga kinikilalang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining sa Panitikan sa pag-unlad ng literatura ng ating bayan at ng lalong masaklaw na kultura at pagkakakilanlang Filipino. Sabihin pa, isang paraan din po ito, ang aktibidad na ito upang higit na maipakilala sa sambayanan ang ating mga Pambansang Alagad ng Sining, lalo na sa mga kabataan.”
Dr. Jonathan Chua, Dean of School of Humanities, conducted the lecture by answering the question, “Where is the Philippines in Jose Garcia Villa?” Even though Villa was a writer who avoided national identification, Chua pointed out how writers and their histories are often indivisible. “Writers are products of their histories so that their writing will necessarily bear traces of those histories even as the writer’s imagination transforms these.” Chua’s lecture covered several short stories and poems of Villa that exhibit shades and signs of being a Filipino—Villa used the Philippines as the setting of many stories and used imagery suggestive of Philippine matter in some of his poems. “It is in such seemingly passing references that readers with a mind to look for the Philippines would find it. What they’ll find is not perhaps the Philippines as a place as it is in the short stories, but as an agent in the historical process,” Chua says.
After the lecture, educator, actor, and director Jethro Tenorio poetry performed a reading of Christian Benitez’s translations of Villa’s poems. A musical performance of the “Garcia Villa Song Cycle” composed by Manuel P. Maramba, OSB and performed by tenor Randy Gilongo and accompanying pianist Naomi Paz Nemenzo Sison capped off the event.
The Collected Stories of Jose Garcia Villa is available for purchase at the Ateneo University Press and Lazada.

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