As a belated celebration of the National Literature Month (NLM), the Davao Writers Guild, in partnership with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, and the College of Education of Notre Dame University organized Kumbira: A Panel Discussion on Mindanawon Writing in Cotabato City on August 11, 2017. Kumbira has been an annual literary reading activity of the Davao Writers Guild even before NLM was signed into law in 2015. Previous Kumbira activities have been held in Holy Cross of Davao College, in Samal Island, in Kapalong, and as part of NLM at the People’s Park in 2015 and at the Taboan of Matina Town Square in 2016.
In keeping with the group’s mission of providing support to growing literary communities outside of Davao City, the Davao Writers Guild decided to hold its annual literary reading and forum in Cotabato. I initiated the Guild’s partnership with Notre Dame University by reaching out to Delma Yuarata, the program head for the university’s College of Education. Yuarata used to be my English teacher in grade school, and she was also my first writing coach. When I told her about the Guild’s plans of conducting an outreach activity outside of Davao City, particularly in Southern Mindanao, I suggested that it might be a good idea if the literary forum can be held in Notre Dame University, my alma mater. She gladly volunteered to facilitate the preparations for the event—all we had to do was bring writers to Cotabato City.
This year’s Kumbira also featured SOX Writers, the umbrella organization of literary groups from the SOCCSKSARGEN region to help them build a wider network with young and budding writers from Cotabato City. Jade Mark Capiñanes, Saquina Guiam, and MJ Tumamac, all from General Santos City, participated as panelists. The Guild members who were with me in the panel were current DWG President John Bengan, Darylle Rubino, Macario Tiu, and Lualhati Abreu.
The participating writers read their works to an audience of around 200 teachers, English majors, and high school students from Notre Dame University, most of whom had not yet met a local writer before the event. Before each reading, the writers shared with the audience the motivation behind their works.
Both John Bengan and Macario Tiu shared works about Davao City and emphasized the importance of writing about Mindanao by writing about home. Bengan read his recently published short story about a Davao public servant who drives a taxi at night as a means for him to watch over his city, and Tiu shared his award-winning work, Tsuru, a story set in Malayal, Zamboanga del Norte that tells the story of Peryang and her Japanese friend.
MJ Tumamac also found his consciousness of the story at home, where he first attempted writing stories to describe his childhood experiences. As an adult, Tumamac aims to preserve the same childhood experience through his writing. Darylle Rubino also discussed how the longing for the comforts of his hometown has been the impulse in his own writing. He shared Flom’lok, his concrete poem about home, shaped in the form of Mt. Matutum. Jade Mark Capiñanes, on the other hand, read parts of his recent Palanca award-winning essay, A Portrait of a Young Man as a Banak, where he narrated the struggles of his family that led him to reside in Polomok in South Cotabato, and then in General Santos City. Capiñanes also discussed his advocacy of using social media as a platform for literature. He said that sharing his writing exercises on Facebook has helped him improve his craft, as Facebook helps him gather comments directly from his readers.
Saquina Guiam, a Maguindanaoan writer from General Santos City, shared her experiences of writing from and about home. Asked about how writers can write about and from Mindanao without offending people of other ethnic groups, Guiam cites from experience the importance of rigorous inquiry and research in writing about a particular culture. Guiam also expressed that acceptance of valid comments from members of the ethnic group is also equally important in writing about a particular culture. On the other hand, Lualhati Abreu, a Manila-born writer, and the most senior of the writers, also echoed Guiam’s advice about research when she described her experiences of writing her award-winning Martial Law memoir, Agaw Dilim, Agaw Liwanag.
Since the literary forum was the first of its kind in Notre Dame University, the students took the opportunity to ask the writers for tips and advice about writing, accepting criticism, and publishing. The students were encouraged to submit their writing to Cotabato Literary Journal, the online journal of SOX Writers and to Dagmay, the literary folio of the Davao Writers Guild. They were also urged to form a young writers group in the city with the help of SOX Writers, whose member-organizations already include writers groups from North Cotabato, South Cotabato, General Santos City, and Sultan Kudarat Province.
In the Davao Writers Guild, we believe that building literary communities is essential in developing a vigorous literary movement in Mindanao. Writing is a solitary activity, but the life of the Mindanawon writer doesn’t need to be the same. It is through the community that young writers are provided with a steadily increasing number of avenues for their writing. It is through the community that Davao City now enjoys literary activities organized by different literary groups in the city. It is also through networking and community building that SOX Writers have managed to organize literary readings, contests, and seminars, even when its members live in different cities and provinces.
As for me, Notre Dame University is where I started writing and Cotabato City is where I first developed my passion for literature. I am grateful that with the help of the Davao Writers Guild, I am given the opportunity to come back to my roots, and help others create a beginning for themselves as well.
Gracielle Deanne Tubera is the current Vice President the Davao Writers Guild. She is a B. S. Nursing graduate of the Ateneo de Davao University, where she now works as Technical Assistant to the University President for Resource Generation and Special Projects.