July 6, 2011
Philippine writing workshop anniversary celebrated UI ties
Robin Hemley began his panel presentation at the recent Iowa Writers' Workshop 75th-anniversary reunion with an apology for the possible effects of jet lag. The Writers' Workshop alumnus, who is now the director of the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program, had flown in from the Philippines just the night before.
If the jet lag had resulted in deja vu, that would have been understandable. While in the Philippines he had represented the UI at another anniversary: the 50th anniversary of the National Writers Workshop at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, the oldest writing workshop in Asia, founded by the Iowa Writers' Workshop's first international students and inspired by their experience at the UI.
Edith and Edilberto Tiempo returned to the Philippines in 1952 after four years at the UI and immediately set about creating a program modeled after the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Ten years later, they established the workshop at Silliman, which has been attended by more the 600 young writers over its first five decades.
The National Writers Workshop's director-in-residence is now Iowa Citian Rowena Torrevillas, daughter of the founders, who was for many years on the staff of the UI International Writing Program and has taught in the UI English department.
She explains, "At the Silliman workshop, 15 fellows are selected through a juried process -- as stringently competitive, I suppose, as the admissions process for the graduate writing programs at the UI. Their work is discussed by a panel of critics, most of whom are alumni of U.S. writing programs (or have even attended the IWP).
"Since I started directing the workshop, we've brought a distinguished Asian writer to lecture and take part in the the third week; last year visiting writer was Xu Xi (who came later that year to Iowa); this summer it was Kirpal Singh, who represented Singapore at the IWP in the 1990s."
Alfred A. Yuson, a 1978 veteran of the UI International Writing Program, wrote in the Philippine Star, "The links remain strong between Dumaguete and Iowa, with Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, 'Dad' Ed's and 'Mom' Edith's daughter —- she of her own sterling qualities as a poet and writer -— serving as the Dumaguete workshop's director for the second straight year. Only fitting, too, especially now that 'Mom' Edith, National Artist for Literature, is in her 90s, and that the workshop she sustained upon 'Dad' Ed's demise in 1996 is celebrating its 50th anniversary this May."
Hemley led a delegation of UI writing students to the Philippines, linking up with the last two days of the the National Writers Workshop: "In the Dumaguete workshops, a panel of professional writers considers the poem, short story, or essay of a younger writer and after they've given their opinions and insights, the rest of the fellows are invited to join in. A couple of our students -- Miles Fuller and Rae Winklestein -- were invited to join in the discussion of one poem that was being considered, and I was impressed by their critical skill and respect for the Filipino writers."
And during the program's May 20 Gala Night, Hemley accepted a special award celebrating the program's debt to the "mother program" at the UI.
Torrevillas wrote in the Gala Night program, "At this moment, across the planet, the fields of Iowa are being tilled and prepared for planting the seed that will feed the whole world. Where we are today, a world away, the seeds from Iowa -— the nursery of writing worldwide, the Iowa Writers' Workshop —- are being reaped in our midst: 50 years of the written word, shared, cultivated, celebrated in a golden harvest."
In reflection, Torrevillas commented, "I believe the workshop story is a fine example not only of the world coming to Iowa, and of the good creative seed of an idea from Iowa going out to the world -- but of the way the hybrid seed returns to its field of origin to generate yet another (international) product.
"The golden circle was made complete when the delegation of writers from Iowa came to Philippine workshop last month with Robin. They arrived just as the three-week workshop was ending, but we are so happy that the group was able to attend one of the workshop's sessions at the end, at the Writers' Village in the mountains, where the Philippine workshop is held.
"The day following the 50th anniversary gala celebration, the Iowa writers came over to our house for merienda (the Filipino equivalent of afternoon tea), to meet my mom. During my conversation with some of the Iowans who had taken part in the workshop session at the Writers' Village, we were remarking on how the discourse at the workshop had made the terrain so familiar through the language spoken by writers speaking critically of reading and writing -- now worldwide."
The Writers' Workshop, the English department and the Nonfiction Writing Program are units in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
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