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||Nick Joaquin (1917-2004)|
Philippine novelist, poet, playwright, biographer, and essayist
writing in English, the National Artist for
Literature. Joaquin wrote largely about the Spanish colonial
period and the diverse heritage of the Filipino people. Often he dealt
with the coexistence of 'primitive' and 'civilized' dimensions inside
the human psyche. After World War II, Joaquin worked as a journalist,
gaining fame as a reporter for the Free Press. His most acclaimed play is A Portrait of the Artist As Filipino
(1952). Other celebrated works include The Woman with Two Navels (1961), which title refers to the two legacies, the Spanish and American, the "navels" of Filipino history, and Cave and Shadows (1983), about myths, paganism, Christianity, and the national identity, written in the form of a mystery novel.
Nick Joaquin was born in Paco on Calle Herran, the son of Leocadio Y. Joaquin, a lawyer and a colonel of the Philippine Revolution, and Salome Marquez, a schoolteacher; she taught her children English. Joaquin's family got into dire economic circumstances after the sudden death of his father. The large family house was sold and Joaquin moved to live with his olderbrother Porfirio ("Ping") and his wife, Sarah. After three years of secondary education at the Mapa High School, Joaquin dropped out of school to work on Manila’s waterfront and in odd jobs. On his spare time he read widely at the National Library and on his father's library; he died when Joaquin was 13. Joaquin's brother "Ping" was a jazz pianist and for a period he worked in the same vaudeville as a stage hand.
Joaquin started to write short stories, poems, and essays in 1934. His first poem, a piece about Don Quixote, appeared in 1935 the Tribune, where he was employed as a proofreader. 'Three Generations,' a story about the struggle between fathers and sons, marked the beginning of a new era for Filipino writing in English. It was first published in 1940 in the Graphic, and named to José García Villa's Roll of Honour for short stories that year. After the Spanish-American war in 1898, English had became the official medium of instruction in the country and virtually all Spanish literature ceased. Since the 1970s, Tagalog strengthened its position as the national literary language alongside English. Together with such writers as Stevan Javellana, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Celso Carunungan, and Kerima Polotan Tuvera, Joaquin influenced the development of the Philippine novel and short story. His most powerful short stories Joaquin wrote between 1946 and the mid-1960s. 'Guardia de Honor' (1949) was declared the best story of the year by the Philipppine Free Press. Joaquin's much anthologized stories also include 'May Day Eve' (1947) and 'The Summer Solistice,' first published in The Evening News Saturday Magazine, on June 21, 1947.
Joaquin's essay on the defeat of a Dutch fleet by the Spaniards off the Philippines in 1646 earned him in 1947 a scholarship to study in Hong Kong at the Albert College, founded by the Dominicans. After less than two years, he left the seminary, finding it impossible for him to adjust to rigid rules. In a poem he wrote: "But I am Balthassar, cracked with years and learning, / lost in a world where all gods have died: always and everywhere, I must see a gibbet burning." ('Six P.M.,' Collected Verse, 1987) Joaquin never abandoned the Catholic faith of his parents, and whenever it was possible for him he received the Holy Communion.
Starting as a proofreader at the Philippines Free Press, Joaquin
eventually rose to contributing editor and essayist under the pen
name 'Quijano de Manila' (Manila Old Timer). As a member of a
group of Filipino journalists, he traveled in China in 1966 and met
Henry Pu-yi, the last Chinese emperor, who worked as a gardener in the
Forbidden Palace. Joaquin's travels to many countries around the
world helped him to deepen his insight of his own country. In 1970, Joaquin went on to edit Asia-Philippine Leader. He then became the editor of the Philippine Graphic Magazine and publisher of the Women’s Weekly.
In the essay 'A Heritage in Smallness' (1966) Joaquin
said: "With the population welling, and land values rising, there
should be in our cities, an upward thrust in architecture, but we
continue to build small, in our timid two-story fashion. Oh, we have
excuses. The land is soft: earthquakes are frequent. But Mexico City,
for instance, is on far swampier land and Mexico City is not a
two-story town. San Francisco and Tokyo are in worse earthquake belts,
but San Francisco and Tokyo reach up for the skies. Isn't our
architecture another expression of our smallness spirit?" In spite of being an Anglophone Filipino writer, Joaquin
stressed in Culture and History
(1988) the importance of his country's Hispanic heritage for the
national identity, tracing the birth of Filipino culture to the Spanish
colonial period. "Before 1521 we could have been anything and
everything not Filipino; after 1565 we can be nothing but Filipino."
Studies for priesthood explain part the Christian setting of Joaquin's stories and constant attention to the spiritual life of his characters. His writing also build a bridge from modern world view to primitive beliefs. When the young Guido in the short story 'The Summer Solstice' (Tropical Gothic, 1972) returns from Europe to his home, he tells Doña Lupeng: "Ah, I also learned to open my eyes over there – to see the holiness and the mystery of what is vulgar." Set in the 1850s, this work portrayed the collision between instincts and refined culture. Doña Lupeng first rejects ancient beliefs, but under the spell of the moon, she becomes possessed by the spirit of the Tadtarin cult – she does not want to be loved and respected anymore but adored as the embodiment of the matriarchal powers. 'The Summer Solstice' was later made into a play and filmed in 2001 under the title of Tatarin by Tikoy Aguiluz.
Prose and Poems (1952) was followed by the Barangay Theatre Guild's production of his play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, set on the eve of the Pacific war. The title refers to James Joyce's famous book, not without ironic tone. A Portrait, originally published in Weekly Women's Magazine and first staged in 1955, is considered the most important Filipino play in English. Joaquin focused on a family conflict, in which traditional cultural models are reconciled with individual values. The descendants of Don Lorenzo, living in grand decaying house in the colonial core of Manila, refuse to sell the masterpiece and a national treasure, 'Retrato del Artista Como Filipino,' which he has painted for them. Eventually the daughters Paula and Candida destroy the painting, as an act of liberation. "Yes – we have been born again – not of his flesh but of is spirit," says Candida. Joaquin's source of inspiration was the Guerrero family, which he once described as "a mixture, a very uneasy blend, of religious conservatism and intellectual radicalism." The prize-novel The Woman Who Had Two Navels examined the pressures of the past upon the present. Monson, the ex-revolutionary, hides in Hong Kong, afraid to face the trials of postwar independence. Again Joaquin dealt with the tensions between illusion and reality. The novel won the first Harry Stonehill Award, an yearly grant. Joaquin wrote the work while in the United States and Mexico.
During the reign of Ferdinand Marcos, who had won presidency
in 1965, corruption started to fuel opposition to his administration.
Joaquin's writings never brought him into conflict with the
regime, but when martial law was declared in 1972 Joaquin was
subsequently suspended. At a ceremony on Mount Makiling, attended by
Imelda Marcos, he spoke of freedom and the artist. He served also as a
member of the Philippine Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, passing
with his friend Jose A. Quirino all the films they saw. When Marcos
decided to reward the diplomat, politician, and writer Carlos P. Romulo
with the National Artists Award for Literature for his role in making a
deal with the Americans on the U.S. bases, Joaquin and the writer and
artist José García Villa made it known that they wanted to return their
National Artist Award to the government.
For his work Joaquin received several awards. He was widely considered the best postwar author in his country. His essay 'La Naval de Manila' (1943) won in a contest sponsored by the Dominicans; 'Guardia de Honor' was declared the best story of the year in 1949, he received in 1963 the Araw ng Maynila Award, and in 1966 he was conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Literature, Journalism, and Creative Communication. Joaquin was declared a National Artist in 1976; he was the most anthologized of all Philippine authors.
Joaquín died of cardiac arrest on April
29, 2004, in San Juan. He was a family friend of President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo and her biographer. Know for his love of San
Miguel beer, Joaquin enjoyed spending time with his friends in the
Ermita bar, Cafe Indios Bravos, the National Press Club, or in some
other watering hole. Living like hermit, he never married. His personal library, 3,000
books and his trusty Underwood typewriter, Joaquin donated to the
University of Santo Tomas. Throughout his life, Joaquin was an eager walker.