I don’t know if the other Philippine MFA creative writing programs do this, but the one I’m enrolled in has a few daunting requirements for its students. High GPA requirement aside, before I can take the comprehensive exams and do my thesis, I have to be published in an inter/national refereed literary journal, and become a fellow in a national writing workshop (and maybe win a writing award, while I’m at it).
Oh, and it would be really nice if I accomplish all these within my first two years in the program.
No wonder I’ve started to have (mild) cold sweats every time writing workshops, publishers/editors, and contest admins issue calls for submissions. Even then, I let all those recent deadlines pass by because I thought my work was still raw.
But I finally caved last month. Partly because of the aforementioned school requirements and partly out of genuine curiosity and desire, I sent in my creative nonfiction material for the UST National Writers’ Workshop, and a short story for Likhaan‘s 11th edition, which is doing popular science writing and speculative fiction this year. My fingers are crossed; but I’m also realistic about my chances. I know full well that I might not get into both. If that’s the case, I can always try again next year, or with other workshops and publications.
For the UST workshop (and I guess this also goes for other national workshops as well), all applicants were asked to supply the screening panel with a recommendation letter from their literary mentors. I asked (rather, bugged) my own mentor for the same thing for my grad school application, so it was natural for me to do the same thing here. She’s also gone through the whole stressful workshop-application process, so she knew it was only a matter of time before I asked again.
But then a classmate and friend asked me who did my recommendation letter, and said he didn’t know who to ask for his. It reminded me that not all good writers have mentors that already belong to the PH literati or are recognized by them, or will choose to take the same path as they did. Anyone can be a great writer and not play the sino-kilala-mo game, or have a long list of workshops attended or awards won, or a creative writing degree, to boot. We submit our work for validation, but we all need to remember that that’s not the only way to get it.
It also reminded me of the patronage that’s long been in place in our literary scene (and, everywhere else, to be honest) — the kind that Adam David railed against on his blog back in the late ’00s, and Katrina Stuart Santiago on Rogue in the early ’10s.
(Here’s another great essay on PH lit patronage and politics: Monica Macansantos’ 2015 work “Becoming a Writer: The Silences we Write Against”, published in TAYO Literary Magazine.)