Talking to Manong Johnny the Nationalist Artist

No, he has not been given that honor but he more than deserves it. Ilokano writing in the 60's onwards cannot hold without that name, without the artistic examples of that man. If good manners were the ruler for the National Artist award and not the anomaly that it has always been--the anomaly that those selecting know only two literatures, that of Tagalog and English--then Manong Juan SP Hidalgo Jr could have easily won that award.

But there is politics of taste. And there is that bad politics of taste.

Well, we cannot have it all, and Manong Johnny was well aware of that.

Somewhere in time, I have written my kudos to him in a poem I dedicated to him but whose line I cannot now recall or whose hard copy I do not know where.

In exile, I have spoken with him several times, and last night's three-way call, with Terry Tugade on the other end of the line, was one of validation and insight and inspiration.

For here is a man who was not greedy with anything, not with power, not with position of authority.

For he was always gracious--gracioso, that rare quality of person we writers have somehow lost in the flurry of our small victories, believing that these small victories define us. There is a huge lie in this, a fantasy, and we do not see the trap in the Palanca awards we have won, accidentally, or that Gawad Komisyon we were able to hit right because the judges simply liked your entry.

No, awards do not define a writer even if lately, this is what a Palanca award has become.

Many of us joke that awards do matter, but we take them matter of factly, and we are there for their fund-raising value.

Manong Johnny is not us: he did not care about literary contests.

I remember another writer who is like him: Bien Lumbera the National Artist. He won a literary award somewhere, perhaps once, and then went on to train the better writers of the Republic. And the Magsaysay came in handy.

Like Bien, Manong Johnny was more of a guru than a greedy writer, greedy with accidental successes.

I remember seeing him for the first time when I was beginning to write. I went to those GUMIL summer seminars when the telegram was still the way to communicate that one was able to hit it right with some kind of a minor award for some minor short story you have written with the exuberance of your youth.

I remember the Father Rector, the telegram on hand, announcing to the gawking seminarians, that I have won such and such and that I was expected to get my award from some resort.

(To be continued>>>)

A Solver Agcaoili
Sept 20/07
UH Manoa

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