Random thoughts on the National Book Awards in the Philippines

In the Philippines, there is an annual event that authors look forward to – the National Book Awards. It is conducted by the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nominated books in the previous two years have been merged in the 2022 ceremonies.

These annual awards are worthy of support and praise as they recognize the value of Philippine writing and the vital role of the book industry in furthering literacy.

Full disclosure: my books of poetry and short fiction have been shortlisted a number of times in the past. Another book, Crocodiles in Belfast & other poems, was included in this year’s list. I write this piece as an outsider in the whole selection process. I am limited by physical distance and countless other circumstances. I dare to share my thoughts alone and do not represent any group or institution. These musings are not meant to offend. I therefore wish to hear what you think – each and all feedback will be much appreciated.

There are a few things that bothered me when I read through the selection process, which led me to pose the following questions.

Why do the publishers have to supply books for nomination? Shouldn’t the Manila Critics Circle and the NBDB show that they support local publishing by buying those books instead?

How many members of the Manila Critics Circle actually write book reviews to let readers know which books would be worth their while? Shouldn’t critics be critics who make their opinions and views public – ideally in accessible formats like journals and magazines (in print or online) – and not keep them behind closed doors during the annual selection process?

How many previous National Book Awards winning titles have eventually been read by the general population? Shouldn’t part of the nomination be the chance for the title to be listed among the Department of Education’s recommended books? Won’t it make sense for the National Book Development Board to raise funds to buy copies of the nominated books for dissemination to libraries around the country?

Apart from the pageantry of the annual awards, shouldn’t the NBDB push for a more just and fair distribution of and access to locally published books? Should it not dismantle the monopolistic hold on book distribution which is blatantly unfair to publishers who are not part of the behemoth that is the National Book Store and its sister publishing entities?

I had a look at how they conduct the selection process for the National Book Awards in the US as a point of comparison, knowing fully well they have a much robust and thriving book industry as well as a huge network of public libraries. I do not propose that the Manila Critics Circle and the NBDB make a complete overhaul of their selection process. It wouldn’t hurt to involve other interested parties such as librarians, the reading public, and others.

The NBDB could make a difference in the Philippines by funding the writing of book reviews and criticism. They could put up financial and logistical support for independent publishers in local and international book fairs. They could support self-publishing efforts to produce new and challenging work that mainstream publishers may not be keen to release. These are random suggestions and I am certain many more could be gathered from keen players in the Philippine book scene.

On an unrelated note… The return of the Marcoses to the highest political leadership of the country is tragic. The national elections were marred by disinformation, vote buying, and fraud. Highly dubious numbers during the supposed electronic transmission of the results point to an orchestrated manipulation, thus a disenfranchisement of the true sentiment of voters. These issues were widely reported by media and expressed by voters themselves online, but were largely swept aside by the Commission on Elections. A group of international election observers declared the process a failure, and the supposed winner as illegitimate.

The first few days of the new regime saw extravagant partying reminiscent of the excesses of the family before they were overthrown in a popular revolt in 1986.

Bloodred Dragonflies on video attempts

I’ve been fiddling with a free video app to try and share my work. The results may not be effective – and are definitely far from perfect. But hey, without a budget and much experience, whatever comes out of the exercise will have to suffice for now.

I’ve created a playlist that should have more as I go along. It’s on YouTube. Care to subscribe? I won’t get anything out of this. Hahaha. Not by a long shot.

The playlist should be updated automatically as I add more videos.

Grabbed from The Schooner Newsletter

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Dear Schooner Newsletter Readers,
Exciting news! We are officially back on schedule. During these last few months, as we’ve reformulated the look of the newsletter and updated how we go about bringing it to life, one thing has remained constant… we’ve given you a sampling of intriguing new poetry book releases from every single calendar month. We’re excited to be bringing you, before May comes to an end, a list of fifteen excellent May releases that we think are worth checking out. Enjoy! And, as always, please feel free to send any questions or comments to schooner.litmag@gmail.com!
Best,The Schooner Newsletter Team
cover_preview.jpegJim Pascual Agustin‘s Bloodred Dragonflies, translated from the Filipino by the author, is out this month from Deep South. Click here to read an interview with Agustin critiquing United States-based publishers for failing to put out global titles and click here to listen to Agustin read his poem “The Breath of Sparrows” on the Dr. Ahmed’s Poetry Reading Hub YouTube channel.
Click Here to Buy

Fog outside, inside

You try to take a snapshot of the fog and the trees outside and the glass partly catches the reflection of what’s inside. What you thought might be a ghostly scene now feels like something else less expected. https://www.instagram.com/p/CdMMCHTsQR1/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

A new version of The Sound Before Water

I wrote this poem many years ago. I thought I was finished with it. Then Robert Berold of Deep South Books worked on it again with me. So a new version was born and included in Bloodred Dragonflies. We’re launching the book on 3 May 2022 at 7pm at The Book Shoppe, 3 Arts Village, Plumstead, Cape Town.

I can take orders from South African readers or they can order the book through their local book shops. In the Philippines the book will be released by San Anselmo Publications – contact them on their Facebook page. International orders and the Ebook version are available through the African Books Collective Website.

I hope to have more readings in the coming weeks/months…

Here is the reborn version of The Sound Before Water which you can also listen to on Soundcloud.







3 May 2022 Launch

Will you be in Cape Town next week? Join us for the launch of #BloodredDragonflies!

Playing with video: The Path of the Wind

With the launch of BLOODRED DRAGONFLIES this coming Tuesday, 3 May 2022, I’ve been forced to get out of my cave a little. Bit by bit. That means trying to play with things I can send out to the world that may interest someone, anyone, who likes poetry – whatever their idea of poetry is.

I’ve made a short video. I did a few many years ago – crude and amateurish each of them, all done with free software and my ignorance of what can be done (or should not be done!) being the starting point.

I don’t know if I’ll make more after this one. So tell me what you think. Please.

Out of the shadows

Coming out of the shadows to introduce a new paper child to the world in the next few days (Cape Town for now!). Wondering who will be in the audience.

3 May with The Red Wheelbarrow at The Book Shoppe in Plumstead.

16 May with Off the Wall Poetry at A Touch of Madness Restaurant in Observatory.

Mahilig Lumimot

May mga kamay. May mga bulsa. May mga nambubugbog. May mga nanininghot. May mga pumapatay. May mga lumulustay. May mga anak na hindi malayo sa anino ng mga ama. May mahilig. May mahilig lumimot.


3 May 2022 Launch of BLOODRED DRAGONFLIES!