Category: postwar years

The ‘golden age’ and the little magazine

By Elmer Ordoñez

The post-war years were euphoric—being free again, going back to school, and meeting friends who had all become adults, and missing some, casualties of a brutal war.

They were also uneasy times because of the Huk rebellion with the rebels (as some said) knocking on the doors of Manila. In fact some were already around. In Diliman, Huk bands patrolled the campus from midnight and UP police were afraid to venture out. Students had to show their IDs at PC checkpoints. By 1950 the “in-politburo” was rounded up in Manila and scores of intellectuals and journalists were “invited” to army camps for interrogation.

Abroad the Cold War had begun to intensify with the Soviet blockade of the Allied zones of Berlin and C-47s flew in supplies for the beleaguered city. North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel and drove the combined US and South Korean forces into a perimeter around the port of Pusan. The war was fought to a stalemate at Panmunjon to an uneasy truce up to now.

The Cold War created an anti-communist hysteria exploited by US Senator McCarthy who recklessly accused State Department officials of being communists. The House of Representatives through its committee on un-American activities (HUAC) also began its own witch-hunt for Reds in the academe, media, film industry (blacklisting directors, actors, writers like the Hollywood Ten), labor and other sectors. Carlos Bulosan was undeterred and wrote the editorial for the 1952 yearbook of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union attacking McCarthyism. The UP campus would have its first taste of witch-hunting when names of four faculty members were revealed at a board of regents hearing as having been given by administration people to an MIS (Military Intelligence Service) officer.

In Manila most broadsheet journalists kept silent when some of their colleagues were “invited” to the army camps. A bookstore owner was himself “invited” and tortured along with other suspected media people. On campus the MIS agents were on the prowl. Ex-GI William Pomeroy, a classmate in our American lit class, left the campus in summer of 1950, to join his rebel wife Celia Mariano in the Sierra Madre. (cf. The Forest)

It was in this exciting period that the campus developed writers that would produce what Jose “Butch” Dalisay called “the golden age” of Philippine writing. How did this come about when visiting American writer Wallace Stegner asked in 1951 where was the writing about the times—the tensions in Manila and agrarian unrest in Central Luzon. It would seem that writers had turned inwards, writing about their angsts or the traumas of the last war. NVM Gonzalez himself wryly noted that a favorite of students was what he called the “Tennessee Waltz” theme. His workshop yielded stories of lost love, lost innocence, tales of you can’t go home again or goodbye to all that. There was actually a lot more than these.

A good index of the writing of the period would be the Literary Apprentice from its revival in 1948-49 to the rest of the 50s. The Apprentice was open to both beginners and established writers usually members of the UP Writers Club. The little magazine came out annually during the 50s, after which it was issued irregularly until 1993.

Editor Armando Manalo put out in the 1948-49 Apprentice a special section on Jose Garcia Villa (“to keep up with the cultural lag”), with Hernando Ocampo doing the cover with a Christ figure as a “common tao.” (H.R. would again do the cover of 1955 Apprentice (which I edited) rendering a recumbent proletarian figure in abstract form.) The Apprentice during the 30s were noted for colorful covers and this practice was followed by post-war editors. Reuben Canoy, one of three editors of the 1949-50 Apprentice (the two others SV Epistola and William Pomeroy), used the same humanistic motif for the cover. Raul R. Ingles, with Epistola, used Pegasus (drawn by Danny Aguila) for the 1951 cover, while Maro Santaromana, with Ray Ekern as co-editor, designed the 1952 cover himself, using the writer as thinker in blue on a black background. Amelia Lapena, one of three editors (Andres Cristobal Cruz and Tita Lacambra) did the typographic cover of the 1953 cover in white letters and velvet background. Rony Diaz’s story “The Centipede” and Andes Cristobal Cruz “The Quarrel” in this issue won top prizes in the newly opened Carlos Palanca memorial awards for literature.

The 1954 Apprentice edited by Rony V. Diaz, with Pacifico Aprieto and Lourdes Paez, had a striking yellow cover with a bright red lizard on it. Two of its stories “The Beads” by SV Epistola and “Death in a Sawmill” by Rony V. Diaz won top prizes in the Palanca contest.

As Maro Santaromana noted: “We are fortunate here in Diliman (for) the more than a dozen volumes of this yearbook, and in the general literary activity that one finds on the campus.” Maro believed that it was “the independence which writers as well as editors . . . have had as their principal platform for launching their creative work.”

Other things conspired to make UP Diliman a center of literary activity. There were good teachers of creative writing like Prof. NVM Gonzalez, Dr. Leonard Casper, and Prof. Francisco Arcellana who focused on the craft of fiction and poetry. Inevitably they developed a group of young writers who were taken in the UP Writers Club that sustained the Apprentice through the years. Eight of them formed the original Ravens who also edited the Philippine Collegian, Collegian Folio, Philippinensian, and non-UP publications like Comment. In the late 50s a new radical breed of writers took over and put out independent little magazines like Signatures, Blast, and Diliman Observer.

(To be continued)