Anywhere in the literary world, book awards hold a sacred space.
They are not mere shiny trophies to gather dust on a shelf. Rather, they can serve as catalysts for the promotion and development of national literature.
This was the hope of the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) with their staging of the 40th National Book
Awards (NBA) last May 13 at the Metropolitan Theater.
This cycle honored books published in 2021.
The list of winners has appeared previously in this column and elsewhere, but I’d like to congratulate the ‘chosen ones’ again. I also wish the nominees and all authors, in general, the very best and hope they continue to keep writing and contributing to the nation’s trove of stories and information.
The NBA has been called “the Oscars” of the Philippine literary world. Perhaps because of the shape of the trophy, but I hope the NBA is also appreciated for the prestige, constancy, and reputation it has built over four decades.
A very special guest at the event was MCC founder Dr. Isagani R. Cruz. A professor emeritus of De La Salle University, the multi-awarded poet, playwright, and educator established the MCC along with writers Dr. Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta (who attended and taught at the University of Santo Tomas), Alfredo Navarra Salanga, and Alfred A. Yuson in 1981.
They staged the first NBA the following year.
Also during the evening, a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Maria Karina A. Bolasco, director of the Ateneo de Manila University Press, for her exemplary work throughout the decades in the publishing industry.
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What’s so important, though, about having awards for the best books produced in any given year? Do they serve any practical purpose?
Let’s examine six points why book awards are meaningful and important for the advancement of our national literary landscape.
First: book awards provide a platform for recognition. Writing is a solitary craft, and many excellent writers toil away in obscurity.
When an author’s work is acknowledged and celebrated through an award, it acts as a validating force, not only for the writer but also for the readers and the literary community as a whole.
The visibility garnered from a book award can bring newfound attention to an author’s work, attracting a larger readership and expanding the reach of their literary voice.
This recognition also elevates the status of the author, encouraging them to continue honing their craft and contributing to the literary canon.
Second: book awards serve as a barometer of literary excellence.
The rigorous evaluation process that accompanies these awards ensures that only the best works receive recognition.
Judging panels comprising seasoned literary experts, critics, and scholars scrutinize the quality of writing, originality of ideas, and thematic depth.
By honoring the most outstanding works, book awards set a standard of excellence that aspiring writers can strive for.
This fosters healthy competition within the literary community, pushing authors to continually improve and innovate, ultimately enriching the national literary landscape.
Third: book awards have the power to ignite public interest in literature.
Through media coverage and public ceremonies, book awards generate a buzz that extends beyond the literary community. The excitement and curiosity sparked by these awards can inspire people from all walks of life to engage with literature, encouraging them to explore different genres, authors, and themes.
By connecting readers with exceptional works, book awards become a catalyst for fostering a love of reading and nurturing a nation of literary enthusiasts.
Fourth: beyond individual recognition, book awards also contribute to the collective growth of national literature.
They create a sense of pride and identity, reinforcing the importance of literary heritage and cultural diversity.
By honoring works that reflect the unique nuances and experiences of a nation, book awards help build a literary canon that mirrors the richness and complexity of a society.
These accolades encourage authors to delve deeper into their cultural roots, bringing forth narratives that might otherwise remain untold.
This process not only preserves cultural heritage but also fosters a sense of belonging and national identity.
Fifth: book awards provide a much-needed boost to the publishing industry.
Recognition through awards enhances a book’s marketability, leading to increased sales and wider distribution.
This financial support allows publishers to take risks on emerging authors and experimental works that may not have gained attention otherwise.
By nurturing a diverse range of voices, book awards contribute to a vibrant literary ecosystem, ensuring the sustained growth and development of national literature.
Sixth: book awards play a vital role in shaping literary trends and discourse. Recognizing and celebrating exceptional works paves the way for literary conversations, debates, and critical analysis.
These discussions foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of literature, nurturing a culture of intellectual inquiry and literary exploration.
Book awards act as a catalyst for pushing boundaries, encouraging authors to experiment with form, style, and content.
By championing innovation and originality, book awards inspire a continual evolution of literary expression.
Book awards are not just ceremonial decorations or empty gestures; they are meaningful and important for the promotion and development of national literature.
Through recognition, they validate and inspire authors, pushing them to further hone their craft, and publishers to share a diverse range of voices and ideas.
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My fellow MCC members – Chairman Dean Francis Alfar, Alma Anonas-Carpio, Dr. Michael Coroza, Dr. Tony La Viña, Dr. Shirley Lua, Dr. Danton Remoto – and I eagerly look forward to reading the nominated entries for the 41st cycle, which we shall be starting to plan for next month.
I am constantly grateful for the magic of imagination that enables the creation of books.
The warmest thanks of the MCC and myself as an individual writer and reader goes to the NBDB – Chairman Dante Francis ‘Klink’ Ang II, Executive Director Charisse Aquino-Tugade, Director Anthony John Balisi, Project Development Officer Kevin Ansel Dy, Kathrine Dean, Addie Eleanor Pobre, and the rest of the NBDB team – for their financial and logistical support of the NBA since 2008. We acknowledge their hard work and dedication to promoting Filipino literature.
We also thank the generous donors of cash awards whose names are given to the prizes they sponsor: the Gerardo P. Cabochan Prize (short fiction in Filipino), the National Artist Cirilo F. Bautista Prize (short fiction in English), the Pablo A. Tan Prize (nonfiction prose in English), the Victorio C. Valledor Prize (poetry in Filipino), the Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize (art), the Elfren S. Cruz Prize (social sciences), and the John C. Kaw Prize (history).
Most of all, we thank the writers and readers who keep our literature healthy, vibrant, and alive.
FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO / Email: [email protected]