The Philippine Star
Ricky Lee: Reading as redemption, writing as restoration
Instead of delivering the keynote address for the ninth cycle of the Philippine International Literary Festival, Ricky Lee consented to a live interview onstage at the lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, talking about the power and voice of creation (the theme of the event, dubbed as AUTHORITIES) in his laidback and salt-of-the-earth manner. The National Book Development Board (NBDB), the government agency mandated to develop and support the Philippine book industry, held the event in celebration of Buwan ng Panitikan (National Literature Month) in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).
The story narrated by Ricky jumps out from the cusp of his life straight to the corpus of his works, a mimesis on poverty and the perseverance it demands from those who are determined to escape its dark confines. Always, he would proudly recount his humble beginnings in Daet, devouring every book he can borrow from their only public library, claiming:
“Reading books turned out to be my redemption from a life of loneliness and deprivation as an orphan. I forgot my hunger, burying my nose in the pages of those books, and even tore pages from them to take home as baon. The product of my reading was writing, and when I won in the Philippine Free Press contest with my story Mayon, I used the money for bus fare and went to Manila to pursue my restoration.”
And the rest was destiny. For over 40 years, he has written prodigiously, inspired by what he has read and validat- ed in reality, through his experiences. His portfolio includes short stories (two of which won first prize at the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards: Huwag Mong Kukuwentuhan ang Batang si Weng Fung in 1969 and Servando Magdamag in 1970), plays, essays, novels, teleplays and screenplays. His screenplay Salome/Brutal won the 1981 Philippine National Book Awards for Best Screenplay. In 2011, he was awarded the Manila Critics Circle Special Prize for a Book Published by an Independent Publisher. His two stage plays Pitik-Bulag sa Buwan ng Pebrero and DH (Domestic Helper) starring Nora Aunor toured the US and Europe in 1993 to wide acclaim. He has turned out more than 150 scripts that were produced into movies, earning for him more than 50 trophies from all the award-giving bodies in the Philippine movie industry. In 2000, he was one of the recipients of the Centennial Honors for the Arts from the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas for Tagalog fiction from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL).
Ricky and the other bleeding heart writers who came for the festival (Elaine Castillo, Marra Lanot, Luna Sicat-Cleto, Glenn Diaz, Kristine Ong Muslim, Kristian Sendon Cordero, Liza Magtoto, Rody Vera, Genevieve Asenjo, MJ Cagumbay Tumamac and Clarissa Militante) fought their battles with books as their shield and their pens as swords. The prize for their victory came in tranches of awards, emerging from the trenches of their struggles into the adulation of their readers.
A group of professors from the University of Santo Tomas (this writer included), in turn focused on the narratives of the “I”, inspired by Ricky’s trope of redemption and restoration. Their topic Autoethnograhy Using a Research Poem is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and creative writing to explore personal experience and connect this story of the self to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. Having studied this for a doctorate degree under Filipino sociologist Dr. Clarence Batan, this writer looked at autoethnography as an “alternative method and form of writing falling somewhere between anthropology and literary studies, intersecting biography, history and sociology.” Professors Luz Lopez-Urquiola, Jeanette Perez-Grajo, Christine Ivy Alarcon-Nogot and Ma. Eloisa Sevilla-Perez differentiated autobiography from autoethnography in that the former is one’s own life story, while the latter is an examination of one’s behavior and ideas, personal culture or “folkways.” Dr. Jonathan Campbell Foe used the lens of history to share his coming-of-age autoethnography, growing up in Seattle, Washington.
Authors, academics and aficionados all agreed in this NBDB celebration of the written word that going off to the edge and exploring the limits of the imagination are deliberate efforts to channel creativity towards something that will outlive us all.
The story narrated by Ricky jumps out from the cusp of his life straight to the corpus of his works, a mimesis on poverty and the perseverance it demands from those who are determined to escape its dark confines.