Since I moved back to Davao three years ago, I've been actively involved in the Davao Writers Guild. I don't normally go for socio-civic organizations -- something to do with the loud personalities that predominate in discussions -- but the Guild is right up my alley. It's small, no more than twenty or so members; it doesn't demand too much by way of time or money; and it's all about a field that appreciate and enjoy.
I'm quite grateful that I bumped into the Guild. Writing may be solitary work, but the life of a writer doesn't need to be. The Guild has given me a small community to bounce ideas off, to celebrate achievements with, and to learn more of the craft from.
The bulk of my activities with the Guild involves Dagmay, the Guild's literary journal. Dagmay has gone through several incarnations but its most recent form is that of a weekly one-page supplement to Sun.Star Davao. Each week, Dagmay features one or two stories or essays and up to three poems.
Since Dagmay's aim is to promote Mindanaoan literature, the main constraint is that the writers have to have some association with Mindanao, either by birth or extended residence. It's a constraint that has borne fruit: so far, Dagmay has featured works from over 160 mostly young writers from the region.
Dagmay is one of the few -- if not the only -- regular multilingual publications in the country today. Our three main languages are English, Tagalog, and Bisaya, but we have featured works in Mandaya. We look to publish works in other native Mindanaoan languages.
Since I came onboard, I've been a semi-permanent editor on Dagmay. Guild members usually take turns editing the journal, but since I'm the one who's always eager to volunteer, I end up with more than my fair share of turns. I was also the one to put up Dagmay on the web, and I maintain the site on a weekly basis. I'm quite proud of the results -- our archive stretches back to September 2007 and we have close to 250 articles as of this writing.
Dagmay does take a fair bit of my time but I feel that it's an important platform for finding new talent. Nothing encourages a writer so much as to see his or her work in print. Dagmay may be a small and limited venue, but I like to think that for many it's the first step towards an active writing life.
By compiling all the contributors to Dagmay, I've also managed to form the Young Davao Writers. It exists primarily as a mailing list where I send out announcements for contests, workshops, and solicitations. It's been slow going at first -- Davao students are notoriously shy about actively participating in interschool activities -- but we've finally had some minor breakthroughs by way of Poetry Nights, our public poetry reading sessions. I hope that out of this, we'll be able to form a regular ongoing writers group.
So much for the things I'm doing for the Guild. What has it done for me? Because of the Guild, I've begun to have my stories come out in mainstream publications. The encouragement was not overt, just a friendly suggestion here and there, but as with many things, the first step is always the hardest. Because of the Guild, I have a greater awareness of the need to write local stories, and in Bisaya, too. I still have a long way to go in this direction, but I guess the important thing is that I've already started.
But most of all, the Guild has diminished for me the inaccessible mystique of the writer and writing. I the past, I think I may have been put off by the aloof nature of The Writer As Moody Inspired Artist, and such misconceptions have driven me to the sidelines. That image is finally giving way to real people working hard at a craft they love. That's an image I am quite happy to associate with.