Saturday, November 15, 2008

Syjuco Wins Man Asian

The Man Asian Literary Prize was awarded a few days ago to Montreal-based Filipino author Miguel Syjuco for his novel Ilustrado :
... a fictional account of a young Filipino caught within a notorious scandal spanning over the Philippine history
The award judges said about the novel that it :
... seems to us to possess formal ambition, linguistic inventiveness and sociopolitical insight in the most satisfying measure. Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, it covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour.
Syuco is interviewed about his win on The Ampersand blog.

The Literary Saloon has some interesting comments about the prize :
While we support the general idea behind this prize -- to provide a leg up for Asian authors (well, authors from those parts of Asia they deign to consider ...) -- we have to wonder once again about the winner. Ilustrado actually sounds like a fun book and we look forward to seeing it in print -- as the Crispin Salvador Wikipedia-page suggests, Syjuco is onto something -- but this is also an author who has been through the Columbia University MFA programme, and who lives in Montreal. We're all for the breaking down of literary borders, bla bla bla, but can't help but notice how many of the authors sold to us as of X nationality live in country Y -- which, something like eight times out of ten, turns out to be the US or UK (and the ninth time out of ten, as here: Canada); nine times out of ten they also conveniently write in English. ... We understand that this is the way the industry works, and that writers obviously choose the easiest route to publishing acceptance -- obviously you increase your chances of getting any sort of publishing deal if you go through the US MFA-mill rather than, say, staying in Manila and write in Tagalog ... -- but we'd love to see some more fostering of local literary scenes, and not just that transnational one.
The MFA /MA in Creative Writing route seems to me an eminently sensible one for anyone who takes their writing seriously (and can afford it!) - but I too would love to see unpublished writers and so far agentless authors from within Asia get their big break.

If you have a manuscript, why not take the chance and send it in for next year's prize?

Postscript :

Richard Lea on the Guardian blog decides it's too early for cynicism.


Anonymous said...

Oh no, sounds like ANOTHER historical novel! Can't Asian writers write about the present?

- Poppadumdum

glenda larke said...

I wonder what they would say about a submission from an American/Brit or whatever who has lived most of their adult life in Asia? Hmm?

Kristel said...

Hello Sharon, I'm a great fan and I hope you won't mind me pontificating in your blog. As a Filipino, I was personally irked by the way the Literary Saloon characterized the Philippine literary scene which they obviously knew nothing about. Especially how the post subscribes to the myth that there is is "pure" and "native" Filipino culture.

In the Philippines, you can scarcely look for a person in the urban areas who don't have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts who are working abroad as chefs, domestic workers, nurses, engineers, etc. Not to mention the families and individuals who went abroad to escape during the Martial Law period, particularly artists and intellectuals who dissented against Marcos. The Filipinos *are* a transnational culture. No one can divorce that from our essence as a modern people. And don't tell me this isn't an issue Malaysians also grapple with.

Filipinos don't begrudge Malaysia of being eligible for the Booker Prize nor do we whinge to the Pulitzer committee to be included by virtue of being a US colony for a period of time. If this is an avenue for our novels to be recognized in the international scene, well, we'll take it.

And just so people know, a great number of writers who live in the Philippines (F. Sionil Jose, Jose Dalisay, Alfred Yuson, Gemino Abad) *do* write in English, many of them exclusively. In fact, with the many languages we have and some regions (Bicol, Visayas, the linguistic melting pot that is Mindanao) bucking under the perceived hegemony of Tagalog as the main language, English has become the most useful medium of communication, much like the case in India. I myself admit of being more versed in writing English than Tagalog, even though I speak it.

bibliobibuli said...

glenda - i really wonder too!!! that is an entirely valid question

i guess whoever is chosen there is always scope for bitching and wishing things were otherwise.

kristel - many thanks for that and it's good to hear about writing in the Philippines. it's very good to hear of a Filipino author winning this award.

but to clarify re the booker, the author is eligible if he/she is published in the UK, so that could theoretically apply to a Filipino writer as much as a Malaysian one!

agree with you about the "myth" of native and non-native authors

btw please feel free to "pontificate" about Filipino literature whenever you'd like to, as we really don't hear nearly enough about it.

Anonymous said...

Reading Wolf Totem now - it's not a novel but a natural science paper...and if it is a novel, it's a badly written, didactic one...

- Poppadumdum