|On NVM Gonzalez|
|THE WRITER WHO NEVER LEFT HOME
By Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo
NVM's accomplishments as a writer are so well known that an enumeration at this time is superfluous. But perhaps it would not be out of place to recall NVM country--the Mindoro countryside, the natural cycle of birth and death, the contrast between dismal poverty and unquenchable hope, the persistence of dreams, and adventure and pain of exile. NVM's stories give us a quiet, moving truthful portrait of the Filipino, for they are written by a man who himself lived through the deprivation suffered by the provinciano, himself experienced the dislocations of the move to the city, and himself felt the deeper displacement of migration to an alien country. Finally, he himself knew the poignancy of the homecoming.
Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzales' life as well as his works were often filled with images of the Filipino countryside, which he wrote most memorably of even during his years of exile in the United States. He was born in Romblon, Romblon and grew up in the lush countryside of Wasig, Mindoro--places that have made an obvious mark on his work as he wrote about its scenery, poverty and dreams.
At a very early age, NVM decided that he what he wanted to be was a writer. Having withdrawn his pursuit of a degree from the National University, he was to later become one of only two people to teach at the University of the Philippines without a college degree. He was also a recipient of many awards and international grants. During his long stay in the United States in the 1960's, he became visiting professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, the California State University in Hayward, and at UCLA. Upon his return to teach at the UP in 1990, UP had already bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate and an International-Writer-in-Residence status. In 1997, he was honored with the National Artist for Literature.
Among other awards, NVM also received the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature, the Philippine Republic Merit Award for Literature in English, the Republic Cultural Heritage Award, the Jose Rizal Pro Patria Award, and the City of Manila Medal of Honor.
A much-loved teacher, a distinguished fictionist, and author of 11 books including Bread of Salt and The Bamboo Dancers, NVM undoubtedly left a formidable legacy as one of the most influential voices of Philippine literature.
FAT AS A LITERARY ISSUE:
A SEMI-GOSPEL ACCORDING TO NVM GONZALES
By Libay Linsangan Cantor
It's difficult to describe one aspect of an encounter with the late national artist NVM Gonzales. Each meeting always sparked an interesting exchange of ideas with him.
I first met NV in 1997. I was a Filipino fiction fellow in the UP National Writers Workshop in Baguio. That was my first foray into the world of literary writing. Soon enough, I found myself immersing in that world again as I reunited with him in another workshop, this time in Cebu. Then a year later, I decided to pursue a masters degree in creative writing in UP where I bumped into him most of the time.
However, It was in Cebu where I fully observed how NVM Gonzalez shared his knowledge with young writers --without arrogance and with sincerity. Back then, I was having problems with my workshop story. He told me that the main problem was it had too much fat. I was lost.
I scratched my head. "What do you mean, sir?"
He took his cup of coffee and placed it atop my bottle of mineral water. "See this cup? This cup is the real story. This bottle is your fat. Remove the fat. Remove the bottle."
I was feeling like a dodo at that time for I wasn't so sure of what he was talking about. I felt a bit insecure because I saw myself as a newbie in that world. "O-kayyy, sir---so, how do I do that?&" He smiled and said some more things. But the one thing that stuck in my mind was this : "When you describe things, don't use adjectives. That's where most of the fat comes from."
He continued to lecture me about fiction writing whenever we would see each other in various literary events. Whenever he would spot me, he would pull me aside and expound on some new tip. He even lent me books and suggested titles for me to find that will help me in my craft. I was amused every time he would do this for he appeared to me as a caring, doting literary grandpa. I accepted the role of literary goddaughter with pride. He taught me lots of things about writing. But he never laid off on the fat issue. He would quiz me every now and then on ways of eliminating fat. He would ask if I have been successful in doing that. I would just shrug, smile and say "almost."
As my writing life progressed, I eventually learned how to spot that fat he always lectured me about. Sir Jimmy Abad calls it "cleaning the line" in poetry. He says he picked that up from Jose Garcia Villa. I suppose in fiction, that fat is those sentences, phrases and even paragraphs which could be easily eliminated. They may appear nice and all in the piece but it may not be necessarily helping the narrative move forward. Extra luggage. Spotting the fat in a story is quite easy especially if it's not your story. But the trick there is to look at your own story and determine what to eliminate. Eventually, you learn the discipline of letting it go, cutting the fat without remorse. Spot the fat to cut as I sometimes chant in front of my computer when it's editing time. It's like trimming the story as Ma'am Jing Hidalgo would say.
I discovered that most of the fat in my stories come from those mushy thoughts I sometimes incorporate unconsciously. Sometimes, I am successful at eliminating it. Most times, though, I refuse to take them out for fear of ruining the effect I was hoping to achieve. I still have to learn how to go about this fat business especially how to trim the mush of my stories. They get to be so emotion-laden most times. But hey, I'm still young. I still have lots of stories to write, and read, and criticize. Maybe I'd be successful in eliminating that fat thing as I go on.
The last encounter I had with NV was the week before he fell into a coma. He was congratulating me on a very nice book review I wrote for The Cutting Edge magazine. Finally, he said, there is no fat in there. And he was proud. Of me. And my article. I was so elated.
Well, it's a start, I said. I guess I'm on my way to literary no-fat land. Thank you, NV, for sharing that literary litany with me. Sorry but I refuse to remove the fat on this one. Just this time, promise.
The Winds of April (1941)
Seven Hills Away and Other Stories (1947)
Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and Other Stories (1954)
A Season of Grace (1956)
The Bamboo Dancers (1957)
Look Stranger, on This Island Now (1963)
Mindoro and Beyond (1979)
Kalutang: A Filipino in the World (autobiography)
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