Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Taboan Writers Conference Day 1

I'm writing this close to midnight, the end of a long day jam-packed with activities and conversations. I wish I could capture even the spirit of the discussions here, but with all the lore I'm soaking up, I wouldn't know where to begin (the origin of "lakwatsa?" the politics of awards? the quixoticism of novel-writing? the nature of Cebuano poetry?) The best I can do is a brief skeleton of the day; the rest I will have to keep within.

Taboan is happening at the very swanky Casino Espanol. I can't imagine fancier digs than this conference center / sports club. Never in all my years in Cebu have I set foot in the place till now. As venerable writer B.D. said, he half-expected the bathroom signs to say not "Men" and "Women" but "Peninsulares", "Insulares", and "Indios."

The conference proper began with a keynote from Dr. Resil Mojares, who opened with the touchy topic of selection of National Artists. Never mind the brouhaha last year with Carlo Caparas, the ongoing tragedy is the continuing exclusion of regional writers. So far, we have only 15 recognized National Artists for Literature: nine of these write in English, and six write in Tagalog. Only Edith Tiempo comes from outside Manila, but no one thinks of her as a regional writer. Needless to say, the discussion afterwards can only be called spirited.

I was all set for relaxing afternoon breakout sessions, preferably hidden away in a small corner of the room. The plan fell apart from the get-go. Larry Ypil tapped me on the shoulder and volunteered me as moderator. The schedule changes and room reassignments made matters more difficult. Instead of four sessions, we had two combined sessions, and that meant speakers had to abridge their talks. Now, how do you politely signal to venerable writers to please hurry up because their time is up? And just when they were getting to the interesting parts? Believe me, they were all interesting parts.

Nevertheless, we all managed it: speakers, audience, and me. Conversation flowed naturally during the open fora, and there were plenty of light moments interspersed with the more serious exchanges. Topics covered: Translation, Children's Literature, Travel Writing, and Novel Writing.

The day's conference proper ended with a performance of Cebuano poetry from the city's young writers. Here I found plenty to aspire to, as far as the organization of Young Davao Writers is concerned. beer night. 'Nuff said.

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