Friday, September 02, 2005

palanca awards night 2005

Gush Warning. Skip if you don’t like name-dropping, because this will read like a society column (I will do my best not to channel Maurice Aracache, palanggas) . Consider yourself warned.

Really, it was like the first time all over again.

It was, in fact, Nikki’s first Palanca night when she was there as a winner (in the previous years, she was my constant companion). This year, when she went up on the stage when her name was called, my heart was bursting with pride and joy. As this is my blog, I can wax ecstatic – my wife is so cool.

For me, it was like the first time because the category, the Novel, was not something I had aspired to compete in, all these years. It seemed impossible, and I always thought that it was reserved for the old guard, something you win when you’re grizzled and hoary. I was happy to be proven wrong (as Felisa Batacan and Vince Groyon have shown earlier).

We arrived early because of the interview and pictorial with Ruey de Vera for the Inquirer (the Palanca articles should come out this Sunday or next). I chose to wear my malong with a coat, the Maranaw colors of the Alonto clan of Lanao. I felt it was fitting since I used my Muslim name, Salahuddin Alonto, as my nom de plume. It was surreal posing for the photographer as we shot outside, with me restraining my impulse to art direct myself (after years of directing other people in photo shoots, I wanted to review the shots or at the very least be able to photoshop them into a semblance of, ah, viewability – I am not a pretty boy, haha).

After the shoot, I met up with zarahg and was introduced to her friend, Joseph Arevalo (2nd prize, One Act Play in Filipino) who excused himself from his duties at the UERM to pick up his prize.

Then I finally got to meet Joel Toledo (first prize, Poetry in English) and his wife, April. I was so happy when he told me that he had novella-length or longer pieces of speculative fiction (set in the Philippines, populated by tikbalangs and creatures of the night). I asked to read his work and he agreed. I’m delighted that he’s writing in the very genre I feel strongly about. I can only hope for opportunities in the future. By the way, in the Lucien’s library of books-that-never-were is a graphic novel written by Joel and illustrated by my friend and art collaborator Arnold Arre (it was almost real; as a comic book creator myself, it hurt to think about the circumstances that led to the project’s death).

Luna Sicat (one of the smoking winners Nikki and I bonded with last year) came over to congratulate us. “I’m here with my mom – she’s the one who won this year,” she told us happily. I went over and introduced myself to Ellen Sicat (Grand Prize, Novel in Filipino) and told her that tonight, were we the matched pair, dancing partner-novelists.

Dr. Cirilo Bautista and Tony Hidalgo called me over to congratulate me (they were two of the three judges – my relief at not seeing Azucena Grajo-Uranza because I still hadn’t read her novel was palpable - I can hear you laughing, Ian). Dr. Bautista told me that they thought the author of my novel was Greg Brilliantes. Now that is a compliment of incredible magnitude. Krip Yuson, Butch Dalisay, Vim Nadera and Gemino Abad were likewise generous with their compliments. For someone like me who learned to write prose without a mentor, the evening’s back patting was a nice experience.

When Alvin Dacanay (first prize, One Act Play in English) introduced himself and sat at our table, it was like a mini-bloggers EB. I’m particularly happy for him because he won in my favorite category. I wished Glenn Mas (1st prize, Full-length Play in English & 2nd prize, One Act Play in English), my usual category-mate, was there to join the fun. I also didn’t get to meet Allan Lopez (3rd prize, Full-length Play in English), too bad.

Alvin, myself and the rest of the table laughed together and enjoyed the excellent staging of the winning play by a classmate of mine at UP Diliman, Chris Martinez (3rd prize, One Act Play in English). Michael V turned in a hilarious performance, bringing the house down. Chris’ play, “Welcome to Intelstar”, was a dig at the call center phenomenon, poking fun at the how Filipino tongues were twisted to new American configurations.

I got a chance to talk to Augie Rivera (multiple winner for Short Story for Children, English and Filipino, in previous years). He’s the one translating my play “Short Time” for the international festival circuit (actually, “translating” is the wrong term – adapting for film is more apt, since a play is not a film script, language issues aside). My heart goes out to him because of the tight deadline and the fact that he needs to struggle with the demands of the film; but I have faith in his abilities. (Aside: Piolo Pascual backed out when he realized the extent of the nudity demanded of him; casting is going on again - see what I said earlier?)

On the buffet line, I said “hi” to Naya Valdellon (2nd prize, Poetry in English), and kidded her about how she and Joel switched places this year. I told her how Ian was absolutely delighted about her win. She smiled and told me she had seen my blog. Ah, bloggers.

While indulging in a post-dinner cigarette, I was approached by two men for a photograph. “Why?” I asked one of them. “Because I read your blog,” he said. He introduced himself as Erlito Reyes (first prize, Dulang Pampelikula) and his companion as Eric Matti, the filmmaker (it's sad because I immediately associate him with Aubrey Miles who I once "vanted"). We got to talking about stories, and I found out that his winning script was slated to be produced next month, of course with Eric. Then talk went to “Salamanca” and Eric asked to read it, with the intent of adapting the material to film. That was unexpectedly cool, but I told him about how it was with Viva Films right now – but if they pass on it, I’ll let him have it.

Speaking of the novel, Jing Hidalgo told me to give it to UP Press, a sentiment echoed later by Dr. Emerlinda Roman, President of UP (and earlier, via email, by "lit-crit rock star" Dr. Carol Hau). Dr. Bautista told me he would write the introduction for “Salamanca” – which, again, is mindblowing.

When my name was called, I climbed the stage and shook hands with everyone. As usual, I almost left before being called back to get the check (“You forgot the money,” said Dr. Bautista). When Nikki’s name was called for Short Story for Children in English, I jostled for a spot in front of the stage to take a picture with my phone. The ladies at the table, various winners and judges, were tickled at the notion of a winning husband and wife team. “Bagay kayo,” one of them told me. I kissed Nikki when she came down. I am the luckiest man on earth, I tell you.

But the highlight of the night was the avatar of Bing Sitoy (1st prize, Essay in English & 2nd prize, Short Story in English). Bing is in Europe (Spain, I think), and her little niece was the one who went up the stage twice to get her prizes, eliciting “aws” from the audience. I told Andrew Drilon (who was our guest along with Vin Simbulan, Kate Aton and Alex Osias) that his chances of being the youngest Palanca Awardee were demolished with the appearance of the small girl. Speaking of young girls, 14-year-old Patricia Ranada (1st prize, Kabataan Essay in English) turns out to be our neighbor. She lives in the same condo, which prompted Nikki to observe that our building was a magical place, producing at least three authors.

Before we left for a small after dinner celebration at Max Brenner’s, I got a chance to talk with Michael Coroza (my batchmate from Silliman, one of the judges this year for Poetry in Filipino) and Tommy Abuel (judge, One Act Play in Filipino) – but despaired of ever seeing my old college crush Mailin Paterno-Locsin (judge, Short Story for Children in English).

So, after all that congratulatory excess, it’s back to real life. Once a year is quite enough, really.

Thanks to the Palancas for a wonderful night with my writing fellows. It was a blast.

*For the full listing of the Palanca Awardees for 2005, go here - courtesy of Ian Casocot.

Some pictures (I wish my digicam stilled worked!):

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Nikki Alfar receives her prize for Short Story for Children

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Salamanca’s reward

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