Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Women's fiction in Asia

It’s sinful, I know. And besides, I already have a copy of Tony Nieva’s “Pasilyo 8” somewhere in my files at home, safely tucked in a folder with Leoncio Deriada’s “Road to Mawab” and the third name, I could not yet remember. Yes, they were the top three winners of the 1981 Asiaweek short story writing competition in that decade when Asiaweek still allot some of its pages to fiction. The magazine folded up two decades later, though; shortly after it reformatted itself as Asia’s business magazine.
I can’t remember now, if it was Ja who first told me about the Asiaweek fiction competition at the time when I was so crazy about fiction. (Until now, I still am, can’t you see?) But in 2000, while drifting inside the Silliman University library, I found the Asiaweek copy that featured these top three winners, and made sure to keep a copy.
Sorry. Actually, I could not remember exactly how I got that Asiaweek copy. Maybe, it was not a library copy after all. Maybe, it was only one of Ja’s old copies, remnants of his Asiaweek days for he could be that “sentimental.” He used to keep at home all those old Asiaweek issues where his stories appeared—but this was before he decided to live like Henry David Thoreau and cast away all his belongings (at our expense) and donated all his books and magazines to the Davao city library. But just to accompany me in my lonely journey to writing fiction, I decided to keep those three old Asiaweek winners among my files at home; and although I might find it hard to locate them now, without turning the whole place upside down, I have not forgotten yet that I still have them among my files.
So when I found a few copies of “Prizewinning Asian Fiction” (edited by Leon Comber) prominently displayed on the shelf of the National Bookstore—I almost went berserk. (Am I exaggerating?) The book features all the winning writers from 1981 to 1988. I felt I needed very badly to read the women!For among those fiercely vying for the top Asiaweek prize, were women (some identify themselves as housewives or someone from the academe, whose mastery over language and form had surprised Asiaweek editors. Of the 26 winners (some of them won twice in different years, of course), only nine were women, a small but nevertheless encouraging number considering how women have always been silenced from writing fiction close to a hundred years after Virginia Woolf wrote “A Room of Ones’ Own.” So, just to console myself because I don’t get to write fiction anymore (this semester will be gobbled up by my master’s project), I will treat myself to reading Niaz Zaman, Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Evelyn D. Tan, Minfong Ho. Claralice Hanna, Fanny Haydee Bautista Llego, Ovidia Yu, Nina Sibal and Nalla Tan.

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