Beginning to Write
By Ian Rosales Casocot
My own love affair with the Silliman Workshop in Dumaguete began eleven years ago, when I was one of nine young writers granted a three-week fellowship to a summer of writing and book talk. It led me to a discovery—in a very big way—to the treasures of Philippine literature. But before that summer, like many other people of that certain age (I was just graduated from college), I knew nothing. Perhaps a tiny bit of Nick Joaquin, maybe a little Kerima Polotan. I remember reading the entirety of Edilberto Tiempo’s A Stream at Dalton Pass and Other Stories when I was 10, because there was a copy of the book in my house, for some reason—and when I was very young, I devoured all books and magazines I could find.
But I knew I liked writing. After a not-so-delightful detour through the wrong course, I ended up in a discipline that was all about practical writing and modern communications. Somewhere along the way, my college composition teacher, a fictionist by the name of Timothy Montes, one day wrote in the margins of my BC 12 essay: “You must apply to The Weekly Sillimanian.” And so I did. By the time I graduated from college, it was again Tim who gently took me aside, and said, “You must apply for a slot in the National Writers Workshop.”
I remember asking him, “Why?” when in fact the question that was in my head was “What is that?” I’ve heard only a little of the workshop when I was in college—but my world was small then, and I really knew nothing, even if, as all young people are wont to think, I thought I knew everything.
Tim told me to prepare three stories. Perhaps those stories I’ve already written for his undergraduate Creative Writing class. There was a deadline. There was the wait. Several days later, I got a letter from Dr. Edith Tiempo. It was graceful in its congratulations, and it gave me the details of the fellowship, and told me to make an appearance on the Monday of the first full week of May of 2000, at nine o’clock sharp, at the Dragon Room of the CAP Building along the Boulevard.
That Monday, at the appointed time, I showed up with Jean Claire Dy, a co-fellow from Silliman. I would soon meet the other writing fellows, of various preoccupations, from all over the Philippines and the world (one was from Hawaii, and one was studying to become a priest). I would soon notice the “Mount Olympus” in the room—the head table where the writing luminaries were. They were to be our panel of writer-critics, a tableau of faces that changed from week to week. The faces on that first day were all unfamiliar to me, but Claire seemed to know more. “That’s Ophelia Dimalanta,” she pointed out to one writer at the panelists’ table. “That’s Jimmy Abad, I love him. That’s Krip Yuson. That’s Cesar Ruiz Aquino. And that, my dear, is Mom Edith. Edith Tiempo.”
I kept nodding and nodding, filing away the names to memory.
There would be more names in the coming years—because, after that summer of 2000, I too would return to the workshop, first as an auditor wanting to reconnect with a cherished memory, then later as the unofficial yaya of several batches of fellows, and finally as a member of the organizing team at the Dumaguete Literary Arts group, and later Silliman University, that would help put out the annual editions of this longest-running creative writing workshop in Asia.
I had no idea it was going to be the summer my life changed forever.