Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greg Brillantes moments

In conjunction with a special award to be given to Filipino writer par excellence Gregorio Brillantes, Philippine Graphic put together an article briefly describing his contributions and career. I helped round up some input from colleagues, senior or otherwise, asking them (via Facebook): "Is there something special you remember about Greg, working with him or socializing, or just being touched by something he wrote?"
Here are the responses:


In my research on our short story in English - I have covered so far the period 1956 to 1989, and read (honesly) over a thousand stories - I can say without reservation that Greg dominates that period in terms of the artistic quality and depth of his work; he should long ago have been declared a National Artist.

-- Gemino H Abad, poet, critic, fiction writer and professor of literature (UP-Diliman).


Recently I reread The Distance to Andromeda and Millennium. I became nostalgic about the future. Then I read one by one Greg's collected essays, especially those about his travels. No one comes close when it comes to the lost art of intelligent journalism and reportage that does not read like disposable literature. Greg Brillantes is one of our diamonds buried under the dross of the sound bite, the lunch time show, and the prevailing culture of inanity on television and the vapid press.

My real Greg Brillantes moment? At one Palanca Awards night where after the ceremonies we usually sung to Greg's piano accompaniment (sometimes made virtuosic because of his vanishing hearing), I had one too many and fell asleep in one of the plush ... Read Morelounge chairs of the Peninsula lobby. I think I came to at about 3 a.m. or later, and guess whom you'd find seated beside me? Greg, of course, and I was so embarrassed but he just smiled that avuncular smile of his and said, I didn't want to leave until you woke up.

-- Marne Kilates, poet, translator and critic


Unlike the Tiempos (Edilberto and Edith) and Franz (Arcellana), who all mentored me in the classroom and workshops, Greg has been my unofficial, indirect mentor for the longest time. He taught me the art of fiction through his books. He showed me how to make characters jump off the page, how to make them memorable like13-year-old Ben, how to make even inanimate objects (like empty houses) stick in your mind with the precise metaphor.

And his nonfiction! I wish more of our nonfiction writers would read him and learn that nonfiction doesn't mean self-indulgence.

And as a friend? Super! He lends me his favorite books--and then forgets about them! No, he just allows me as much time to linger over his books, and I do. They are precious. And Greg Brillantes is precious. I agree with Jimmy--he should have been National Artist a long time ago

Oh, my Greg Brillantes moment? Dancing the boogie with him at one Free Press Literary Awards night!

-- Susan Lara, writer, teacher and critic


I remember the first time i met him, i cried. not because i was in awe or something but because he sent back proofs of his manuscript with lots of exclamation points--which to my (editorial) greenhorn mind translated to utter disappointment and anger at such amateurish book-production work. i wasn't worthy... (sniff). but ... Read Morewhen we got to talk more (even if it was kind of hard with his hearing aid), we got along quite well.

we exchange old books up to this day. he'll also drop by the office with little pasalubong from his trips. he's one of my favorite literary "lolos" :-)

-- Ani Habulan, book editor and developer, Anvil Publishing


i'm still astonished that greg's stories have never been picked up in the radar of the (now) numerous critics of nonwestern anglophone literature. he is doubtless a master of the short fiction form in our part of the postcolonial world, a profound and consummate artist whose command of the imperial medium (of english) is beyond reproach, and whose ... Read Moreworld view is implacably--and necessarily--rooted in a difficult and intensely argued kind of faith... interesting, but it turned out we'd already enjoyed a "nodding acquaintance" even before we were formally introduced sometime in the early 1990s: he was (is) this tall, distinguished- and pious-looking man who, like me, always stood at the back of the lourdes church in retiro, q.c., during the 10 to 11 am sunday mass.

-- J. Neil Garcia, UP – Diliman, poet, essayist, professor, critic


Greg is our family's book bugaw (pimp)with catholic tastes. It's such a trip to find bags with a little bit of everything from Armistead Maupin to Dr. Oliver Sacks to Edith Wharton to Jon Stewart, delivered to our doorstep throughout the year. With such great stocking stuffers, it's like having Christmas even in summer. Often the fly page will have a personalized dedication in Greg's angular penmanship. He addresses my mother as Dona Carolina, an elaborate courtesy that only he can pull off without affectation. Often aside from the literary goodies, there are worldlier treats like hazelnut pralines or a delicate fruit tea. We are truly blessed to have him for our friend.

-- Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, author


I want to contribute my "favorite Greg moment" anyway to this gathering of friends. I had just returned from our life overseas, and to writing fiction, which was actually tales. I sent one to Greg with much trepidation. He accepted it for publication, but asked me, "don't you want to return to ... Read Morerealist fiction"? I never did figure out whether it meant that he didn't like tales, or whether he was accepting my story even if he didn't really like it.

-- Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, author, professor, critic


I was stunned to get a phone call, that first time, from THE Greg Brillantes,

Who? greg brillantes?
yes, this is greg brillantes.
greg brillantes, the greg brillantes?...... Read More

what year did you graduate from the ateneo?
1982, sir. AB Psych. what about you sir, what year were you?
Oh, just a few years after Rizal.

-- Migs Villanueva, author, artist


Marne, I was at that Palanca Awards night you were talking about. I recall that you, Charlson and Mike Bigornia were all singing. And Greg Brilliantes was at the piano. I didn't stay around till morning like you did, though :-)

-- Ramil Digal Gulle, poet, journalist