Friday, August 12, 2011

Philippine Literature in English Today and its Challenge to Contemporary Filipino Writers in English

(In which I share my serious thoughts.)


The following is an essay I submitted in school in response to my professor's question as regards to the current status of Philippine literature in English and the challenges the present and future Filipino writers in English face.


We live in an age where the kind of lifestyle predominant was unimaginable 100 years ago. Through the continuing development of science and technology, every aspect of human life is expected to improve. These advancements help shape the tremendous change in almost every field of study – communication, business, arts, etc. As technology elevates various fields of science and arts into a widely spread compilation of information accessible through the World Wide Web, it is no wonder that it has done equally so with Philippine literature. Therefore, the literary critic Isagani R. Cruz was correct when he said that “The Philippine literature is alive and well and living on the Web.” (Cruz, 2009)

He gave this statement in a lecture with the student group WIKA Kabataan in UP Diliman where he was asked to explain the current status of Philippine literature. In his article published in the Philippine Star entitled “Philippine Literature Today”, he managed to depict the condition of the country’s literature through a presentation of three types of writing – an excerpt from Virgilio Almario’s Hudhud trickily presented as prose, a long text from a blog presented as verse and a paragraph from Bob Ong’s blog. The reaction of the students in the conference confirmed his thesis for the lecture – that Bob Ong symbolizes Philippine literature today.

Considering the age of the Philippine population, it is rather expected that the youth will be the driving force of changes in the field of written arts. Their needs and predilection will be the prime mover of the future of our country’s literature. Therefore, Bob Ong’s popularity is an easy win, not to mention epic. The youth can easily relate themselves to his writing and the language in which his works is presented is the icing on the cake.

However, Bob Ong being known as a writer in Filipino raises questions concerning the other major aspect of our country’s literature: Who, or what, then, is the icon for contemporary Philippine literature in English?

Currently published works of fiction in the country written in English by Filipino writers are dominated by YA (Young Adult) and graphic novels. The subgenres vary from chick lit to fantasy. This trend, however, is expected, as in the case of Philippine literature in Filipino. Again, the current trend is dictated by the penchant of the younger generation; the popularization of which is made easier by online catalogs and digital downloads. It is also worth noting that these fictions are somehow patterned from the Western example, which where some of the problems start.

The revolution of the modern world around anything Western could be considered the epitome of the challenges that the present and future Filipino writers in English must face. The hype directing readers towards Western literature was one of the main causes for the insufficiency of the market for locally published works of literature. (Wikipilipinas) One sad facet of this is the readers’ creation of standards regarding the books that they choose to read. Not that setting a standard is bad. However, if the readers base their criteria on foreign books, i.e., writing styles and themes, the Filipino writer is expected to come to terms with it by giving in to what the prospective market expects, thus somehow losing some important aspects of cultural signatures in writing in favor of profit. Another challenge the Filipino writers need to triumph over deals with grammar, diction and meaning of words. (Santos, 2002) Although this might be a case of cultural preference or even tradition, some expressions, words and writing styles may appear unappealing to other readers.

Given these problems, the present and future Filipino writers in English are then expected to strive more in the attempts of encouraging more readers. It is quite ironic that in a population of more than 90 million, a literary work with a maximum publication of 1,000 copies is considered a bestseller if it sold that thousand copies in a year. (FilipinoWriter) Hopefully, in the future, more readers would be interested in patronizing works by local authors and eventually help in providing a more solid identity to our literature. It may sound Herculean, but not impossible.

Cruz, Isagani. (2009, August 20). Philippine Literature Today. The Philippine Star. Retrieved December 7, 2010, from

Philippine Literature in English. (n.d.). In Wikipilipinas. Retrieved December 7, 2010, from

Santos, H. O. (2002) Philippine Literature Today: A View from Afar. Philippine Best Short Stories. Retrieved December 7, 2010, from

Tantizm, (2009, September 8) "Read or Die" ni National Artist Virgilio S. Almario. Retrieved December 9, 2010, from virgilio-s-almario