"Slow down and relish the pleasures of reading Dalisay."
That was the first name of my aunt, one of the pre-war Bocobo girls in UP and the last of her siblings to pass away, just a few years ago. It’s also the last name of my fraternity brod, former comrade, and friend of half a century, Jose “Butch” Dalisay, who’s now in line to be named our National Artist in Literature next year.
I’m pretty sure that Butch would have hit it off with my Tita Daly, a journalist and bibliophile who spent most of her working life toiling in the San Francisco library system. She would have been tickled pink to learn that Butch once held down the Jorge Bocobo professorial chair on the UP faculty.
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Jose Dalisay was born in Romblon in 1954, then came to Manila to attend the newly-established Philippine Science HS, or Pisay. Later, in UP, we stumbled into each other during the whirlwind early seventies, where our shared predilection for kicking up dust in the streets eventually landed us together in a variety of martial-law jails.
From that eventful start so typical for our generation, Butch went on to finish his AB degree in English (cum laude), followed by an MFA from the University of Michigan in 1988 and a PhD in English as a Fulbright-Hays scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1991. Not surprisingly, he chose to pursue the academic life at UP, where he taught English and creative writing until his retirement last year as professor emeritus.
Butch was also a fixture in UP’s administration, serving twice as vice-president for public affairs, director of the Institute of Creative Writing, and chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature. In 2017, the Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. Professorial Chair in Creative Writing was endowed in his name by an international donor and approved by the Board of Regents—the first time such an honor was given to a serving faculty member.
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But the real reason for nominating Jose Dalisay as National Artist in Literature is the remarkable reach and depth of his literary achievements.
He has published over 40 books of his stories, plays, and essays, with six of them receiving the National Book Award from the Manila Critics Circle. More than 20 of his screenplays have also been produced. In 1998, he was named to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Centennial Honors List as one of the 100 most accomplished Filipino artists of the past century.
Among his literary distinctions, Butch has won 16 Carlos Palanca Awards in five genres (entering the Palanca Hall of Fame in 2000), five CCP awards for playwriting, and Famas, Urian, Star and Catholic Film awards and citations for his screenplays. He was named one of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of 1993 for his creative writing by the Philippine Jaycees.
In this millennium, he was awarded the Premio Cervara di Roma in Italy in 2005. In 2007, his second novel, Soledad’s Sister, was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in Hong Kong; it has since been published in Italian, Spanish, and French. In 2011, the Arizona-based Schaffner Press published his two novels under the title In Flight: Two Novels of the Philippines; the book has won a Silver Nautilus Prize in the US in the multicultural/indigenous category.
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Introducing Dalisay’s first book, Oldtimer and Other Stories (1984), National Artist Francisco Arcellana noted that “Oldtimer is the story of the Filipino in America that can compare with the stories of Bienvenido N. Santos, NVM Gonzalez, or Carlos Bulosan. Kiss Me Goodbye is perfect of its kind. Message to Zenocrate is quite simply one of the most powerful love stories I have ever read—power with love, love and power….”
Of his first novel, Killing Time in a Warm Place (1992), National Artist NVM Gonzalez said: “’Tell us the truth!’ we demand of a book, and this one does with calculated vivacity, spiked with galling humor, wit and felicity of language that gives the Filipino novel a new stature.”
Of Dalisay’s omnibus collection of short stories Voyager and Other Fictions (2019), National Artist Resil Mojares said that “In a digital culture that fosters an appetite for the easy, the quick, and the merely smart and fashionable, it is important to slow down and relish the pleasures of reading Dalisay: the precision and fluency of his prose, his natural storytelling gifts, his skill at character and dialogue, his cool wit and penchant for the ironic, and, beneath his air of levity, a deep understanding of human frailty, folly, tenacity and strength.”
As his longtime friend and admirer, I’m so looking forward to seeing Jose Dalisay join the above pantheon of our best and brightest in Philippine literature.
Readers can write me at [email protected]
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