Writing Center's growing pains

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By Teodoro Lorenzo A. Fernandez and Maria Pacita C. Joson

Since its inception four years ago, the UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies (CCWS) has never failed to bring the best out of the Thomasian writer. From the Associate Lecture Series to the UST National Writers Workshop, the Center has certainly helped hone the writing skills of Thomasians.

In addition, the Center released Ustinig, the first ever CD anthology of critically acclaimed writers reading their works, including Dimalanta and the Center’s associates.

True to the Center’s goal of honing writers’ skills, the CCWS in cooperation with the UST Graduate School, has successfully set up a Master in Arts degree program in Creative Writing. CCWS director Dr. Ophelia Dimalanta considers this as one of the center’s major achievements.

The M.A. program in Creative Writing is designed especially for students who are interested in developing their craft in creative writing, whether poetry, drama, fiction or non-fiction. It also aims to enrich the student’s grasp of literary theory and criticism, as well as in allied disciplines.

Included in the new program’s faculty are such renowned and respected writers as UST alumna and UP Press director Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, National Artist Francisco Sionil Jose, Centennial Epic Poetry award winner Dr. Cirilo Bautista, Dr. Bienvinido Lumbera, Dr. Paulino Lim, Jr, and multi-awarded writers Rebecca Añonuevo, Michael Coroza, and Jose Victor Torres.

In the course’s initial offering this semester, six students enrolled in the program.

This year, the Center’s “star-studded” line-up remains intact. Jose and Bautista are still around to share their literary knowledge as CCWS senior associates. Junior associates Añonuevo, Coroza, Torres, Ramil Gulle, and Lourd Ernest de Veyra are still on hand to give their literary insights.

Likewise, Journalism coordinator and CCWS assistant director Joselito Zulueta, Literature coordinator and CCWS administrative secretary Ferdinand Lopez, and CCWS program officer Paolo Enrico Melendez, a former Rector’s Literary Award winner, have retained their positions.

The center continues to perform in its role to spread the gospel of literature. However, an assortment of problems is out to spoil the pie.

Still indifferent

Despite the Center’s continuous efforts to publicize its activities, Thomasians are still indifferent to it as proven by sparse crowds attending their activities. The number of non-Thomasians surpass that of Thomasians at times.

According to Melendez, the Center has doubled its efforts to get Thomasians to attend the Center’s activities through press releases in major dailies, electronic mail, posters, and invitations, which are sent to UST’s different department heads. However, he said the attendance really depends on the topic to be discussed, which, if appealing to students, would result in a big crowd.

He cited the Poetry as Pop associate lecture series where De Veyra, who is the frontman for the alternative band Radioactive Sago Project, was the resource speaker. He said students flooded the Center’s lecture halls, which can accommodate around 60 persons.

“Generally, ang mga estudyante (na nanonood ay ‘yung mga) nire-require pa ng mga professors nila,” Melendez added.

A random survey by the Varsitarian of 100 students, showed that only 30 (30 percent) have heard of the CCWS. Moreover, of the 30 students, only 19 know where the Center is located, including 16 from the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB). And of the 16 students who know where CCWS is located, only one has attended a CCWS-sponsored activity. The survey included 48 students from AB and the College of Commerce, which are housed in the same building as the Center.

“Very exclusive (ang CCWS). (It is) only for those who are very respected in the field of writing,” Anna Patricia Bautista, a Journalism junior, said.

But Dimalanta said the Center is open to everyone interested in writing, with or without knowledge in creative writing.

“Akala nila para sa writers lang at inclined sa writing (ang CCWS),” Dimalanta said.

Dimalanta said she is sad that Thomasians could not care less about the Center’s activities and that people from other schools appreciate it more.

“Usually, it’s the outsiders who would call when (the center has an upcoming activity),” she said.

Dimalanta added that she is disappointed with Literature professors who prefer not to attend the center’s lectures and gain more knowledge from the experts invited to discuss literary issues.

“They’re happy with what they know. They’re happy that they are able to lecture enough to fill up an hour and get their pay slip. But the idea na marami silang nalalaman? Literature is not just books,” Dimalanta said.

Nonetheless, Dimalanta hopes teachers would take advantage of the activities of the Center, which is “already at their doorstep.”

Tight budget

Aside from the Thomasian’s lack of involvement in the Center’s programs, CCWS has not escaped the UST administration’s belt-tightening.

Although the budget slash is minimal, Dimalanta said there are times when they have to dig deeper into their pockets to subsidize an activity.

For example, Dimalanta said Coroza had to spend from his own purse to make up for the deficit in the stipend for the Mabuhay Singers, the choral group that performed during his lecture series last June. She added that the Center already forwarded a proposed budget but the Treasurer’s office reduced the budget, resulting in the deficiency.

“Everytime we propose a budget, they cut. The moment we already worked on that budget and plan things according to that budget we are usually in a quandary,” Dimalanta said.

Despite the University’s cost-cutting measures, Dimalanta is thankful to the UST administration for believing in them.

“Fr. Lana has always been supportive of the Center,” she said.

Activities

Tight budget, indifference or no indifference, Dimalanta said the Center will push through with its activities for the rest of the academic year.

Recently, the Center held its seventh associate’s lecture series, with Torres as the resource speaker, and the ninth USTingan, the Center’s round-table discussion on literary issues, which tackled “Creativity in Legal Writing.” Invited resource speakers for the ninth Ustingan were Inquirer columnist and former Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani Cruz, former Legal Management professor and Court of Appeals deputy court administrator Zenaida Elepaño, and UP-Diliman literature professor Nick Pichay.

In September, the sixth issue of Tomas, CCWS’ literary journal, will be launched in time for the Center’s fourth anniversary. Fr. Lana will be the guest speaker for the grand lecture in November.

Moreover, to spread the literary ferment beyond the campus, an outreach workshop in Legaspi City is in the works for November. And before the CCWS goes on Christmas vacation, the eight associate lecture series will be held with Bautista as resource speaker. A variety show highlighting the other side of the Center’s members will also take place.

Then in January, the 10th USTingan round-table discussion will be held.

In February, the Center will launch the follow up album to USTinig, which will contain the works of Dimalanta.

Furthermore, a bazaar (tiangge) will take place in March as a fund-raising activity by the center.

To cap the school year, the Center will hold in April the fourth edition of the highly successful UST National Writers Workshop.

Montage Vol. 6 • August 2002