Balikbayan claims Palanca win

From the Daily Tribune

Chuck Syjuco was a student of mine at the Ateneo and I am justly proud to have taught him. His novel has won the Palanca Grand Prize for the Novel and -- along with the novel of Krip Yuson -- has been shortlisted for the Man Asia Award for the Novel. The last time I saw him was in Starbucks Greenwich Village in New York in 2001. I was returning to the Philippines after my graduate studies in the States; he was starting his. I gave him a short tour of the village and the bookstores, and we parted ways. Now he is on the way up, up, up. Hurray!

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All his life, Miguel Syjuco has dreamt of winning a Palanca Award. And now, the Montreal, Canada-based expatriate Filipino writer has fulfilled his dream and won the much coveted grand prize in the competition’s novel category.

His entry was an intricately structured novel which he tried to finish for three years while working full-time as copy editor of Quebec’s largest newspaper, The Montreal Gazette.

In an interview before the Palanca awarding ceremonies, Syjuco, who flew in just three days before the Palanca Awards gala night, said, “I value my Palanca award very much. I believe that it is the most important prize I can ever win in the Philippines. I still can’t believe it. It is such a pleasant surprise.”

Syjuco spent many years studying literature and creative writing: earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Ateneo and receiving a master’s degree in creative writing from New York’s Columbia University and soon a Ph.D. also in English literature from the University of Adelaide, Australia. He has worked in two of the most prestigious magazines in the world, The New Yorker and Esquire.

Aside from being given the opportunity to study and work in prestigious institutions abroad, Syjuco considers himself lucky to have trained under New York-based Jessica Hagedorn (Dogeaters), perhaps the most popular contemporary Filipina author abroad, and, during his college years, under National Artist NVM Gonzalez. Syjuco was also quick to declare his appreciation for all the guidance he’s received from his writing teachers, from Ateneo’s Rofel Brion and Danton Remoto, to the professors at the UP Creative Writing Center, and more recently his teachers and peers at Columbia and the University of Adelaide.

Syjuco’s winning entry entitled Ilustrado is about Filipinos who go abroad and return to change their country.

“I wanted the term Ilustrado to not just refer to the elite of the late 1800s. I strongly believe that all Filipinos who go away to learn things and return to their country are all ilustrados — may they be the educated elite, or the OFWs who go out because of necessity, or even those Filipinos who go abroad and succeed in their professions and represent their country well,” stressed Syjuco.

The novel revolved around the character of Crispin Salvador, a Filipino expatriate author in New York who has been mysteriously murdered. Salvador’s protégé, also named Miguel, is on a quest to find out the truth about his mentor’s sudden death.

In Ilustrado, Syjuco has brought into existence the entire life’s work of Salvador, inventing for the dead author entire novels, short stories, essays, interviews, newspaper articles, and reviews.

Notably, Ilustrado has also been longlisted (as semifinalist) for the Man Asian Prize, Asia’s biggest literary prize organized by the same people who give the Man Booker Prize, one of the biggest literary prizes in the world. Of those semi-finalists, a shortlist of five finalists will be announce this October.

The novel categories in Filipino and English Divisions of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature only happen every other three years, making the novel a much anticipated category of the competition.

This year’s first-prize winner for the Filipino division of the novel category is entitled Gerilya by Norman Wilwayco.

On in its 58th year, the Palanca Awards remains one of the most prestigious and sought-after literary awards in the Philippines, with this year’s roster of winners almost equally distributed among Palanca veterans and first-time winners.

The awarding ceremony held at The Peninsula Manila in Makati had for its guest speaker Department of Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, whose presence gave emphasis to the importance of education in the crafting of literary masterpieces.

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