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Literary harvest: The 37th National Book Awards

Pomp and circumstance is rarely a thing in local literary circles. Writing is often lonely work, punctuated by bursts of frenetic production and post-production work where looking glamorous and sipping chilled drinks is not part of the process. But even the task of coming out with a crop of well-written and beautifully designed books must have some glitter to it. Preferably without the assistance of white glue.

The annual celebration of the National Book Awards is one of three exceptions to that rule (the other two being the annual Palanca Awards night and the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards). This year’s NBA (no, not the basketball thing) was particularly festive, especially with NBA judge and event emcee Dean Francis Alfar’s tongue in cheek admonition that the awardees’ speeches would not be allowed to overrun the allotted minute per winner.

Each year, the National Book Development Board (NBDB) and the Manila Critics Circle (of which this writer is a member) collects books nominated by their publishers across an extremely eclectic set of genres from which a set of winning tomes is judged as the best of the year.

The Manila Critics Circle has been giving the National Book Awards to the best books written, designed and published in the Philippines since 1982, a year after the MCC’s founding. The MCC entered into an agreement with the NBDB in 2008 to institutionalize and to administer the National Book Awards to better honor Philippine publishers, authors and book designers.

The evening of Nov. 24 saw the National Musem lit up and festive, the air fairly crackling with excitement interspersed with congratulations for work well done. This is the night that all the hard work that goes into writing, editing, designing and producing books is rewarded with social gaiety from a gathering dressed in their native Filipinana best and, even better, some material prizes to go with a brand new golden statuette of a trophy—one I now fondly call the Philippines’ “reading Oscarette.”

NBDB Chair Neni Sta. Romana Cruz has said the NBA is a celebration of books: “There are those who might be wondering ‘why still choose to celebrate books with full pomp and circumstance in a country that seems to be more receptive of other forms of media?’ We believe that books are the arbiters of culture that nourish the individual mind and spirit of the Filipino.”
“Through the NBA,” Cruz said, “we champion the creation of excellent books that have the force and potential to compel readers toward free thought and speech, literature that serves to amplify the diversity of Filipino voices.”

The Filipino is a reader—something one sees quite starkly in the long lines at book fairs each year. These readers deserve the best possible work, especially from Filipino book publishers and authors—and the NBA is one way of marking the stellar works available to readers (and not just locally) from these publishers and authors. “The NBDB and MCC are optimistic that these awards will compel authors, illustrators, publishers and other industry professionals toward the creation of excellent books in greater numbers,” Cruz said.

MCC chair Ruel de Vera has said that 2017 “was an amazing year for publishing in the Philippines. The high level of quality and the variety of titles made available by intrepid presses was of a level previously unseen.”
Leading up to the pomp and circumstance, de Vera noted, “the members of the MCC thoroughly enjoyed reading all the entries and happily went through the process of selecting the best of the year’s releases for the 37th National Book Awards with our judges and the stalwart members of our partner since 2008, the NBDB.”

“It goes without saying,” de Vera said, “that the finalists had already represented such an impressive level of publishing ingenuity, and the winners truly do represent the best of their fields of specialization. It stands a testament to the tireless efforts of all those involved in the country’s publishing industry that the selection process was both difficult and rewarding for us.”

The editors and staff of the Philippines Graphic express their heartfelt congratulation to the winners of the 37th National Book Awards, who are as follows:

Merlie Alunan, who won two trophies: One for “Tinalunay: Hugpong Nga Panurat Nga Winaray” published by the University of the Philippines Press, the Best Anthology in English and; “Running with Ghosts” published by the Ateneo de Naga University Press, the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC) Prize for the Best Book of Poetry in English.

“Dead Balagtas, Tomo 1: Mga Sayaw ng Dagat at Lupa” by EmilianaKampilan, published by Anino Comics and Adarna House, which bagged two NBA trophies for Best Book Design and for Best Graphic Literature.

“The Life and times of Purita Kalaw Ledesma” edited by Purissima Benitez-Johanot and publ ished by Vibal Foundation, Inc., the Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize for the Best Book on Art.

Felino Palafox Jr.’s “The Philippines Towards Resilient Cities and Communities, published by Anvil Publishing, the Best Book on Professions.

“Philippine Modernities: Music, Performing Arts and Language” by Jose S. Buenconsejo that was published by the University of the Philippines Press, the Elfren S. Cruz Prize for the Best Book on the Social Sciences.

AitorAnduaga’s “Cyclones & Earthquakes: The Jesuits, Prediction, Trade & Spanish Dominion in Cuba & the Philippines, 1850-1898” published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, the John C. Kaw Prize for the Best Book on History.

Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi’s cookbook “Feast With Me” published by Anvil Publishing, the Best Book on Food.

“Traditional Medicine in the Colonial Philippines, 16th to the 19th Century” by Ma. Mercedes G. Planta, the Best Book in Science.

Estelle Marie M. Ladrido’s “Magandang Gabi Bayan: Nation, Journalism Discourse, and Television News in the Philippines” published by Ateneo de Manila University Press, the Best Book in Journalism.

Lou Antolihao’s “Playing with the Big Boys: Basketball, American Imperialism, and Subaltern Discourse in the Philippines” published by Ateneo de Manila University Press, the Best Book on Humor, Sports and Lifestyle.

Eros Atalia’s “Ang Ikatlong Antikristo” published by Visprint, Inc., the Best Novel in Filipino.

“The Quiet Ones” by Glenn Diaz, published by Ateneo de Manila University Press, the Best Novel in English.

Chuckberry Pascual’s “Ang Nawawala” published by Visprint, Inc., the Gerardo P. Cabochan Prize for the Best Book of Short Fiction in Filipino.

Luna Sicat-Cleto’s “Pag-Ahon: Mga Kuwentong Buhay ng mga Nanay,” Published by 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing, the Best Book of Nonfiction Prose in Filipino.

Emmanuel Q. Velasco’s “Mga Sugat na Naligaw sa Gubat” published by Ateneo de Naga University Press, the Victorio C. Valledor Prize for the Best Book of Poetry in Filipino.

Allan Derain’s “May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sigbin sa Silong” published by Ateneo de Manila University Press, the Best Anthology in Filipino.

Angelo R. Lacuesta’s “Coral Cove and Other Stories” published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, the Cirilo F. Bautista Prize for the Best Book of Short Fiction in English. This book’s title short story, Coral Cove, was first published in the Philippines Graphic magazine literary section, and won first prize for fiction in the 2016 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards.

Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s “That Thing With Feathers” published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, the Best Book of Essays in English.

“Of Tyrants and Martyrs: A Political Memoir” by Manuel C. Lahoz and published by the University of the Philippines Press, the Pablo A. Tan Prize for the Best Book of Nonfiction Prose in English.

Caroline Hau’s “Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture” published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, the Best Book of Literary Criticism/Literary History in English.

The Hanunuo Mangyan tribe’s “Bamboo Whispers, Poetry of the Mangyan” translated by Resti Pitogo, Marne Kilates, Quintin Pastrana, Soledad Lavina, Sylvia Mayuga and the late Antoon Postma and published by Bookmark, Inc. and the Mangyan Heritage Center, the Best Translated Book.

The Publisher of the Year trophy went to the Ateneo de Manila University Press, which had published the most number of NBA winners in this cycle of the NBA.

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