Satire on Pinoy’s religious fanaticism is AdMU Professor’s newest litera

From the time he wrote comic books and sold them at five pesos per page to his fellow grade school classmates, Allan Alberto Derain has already shown a distinct talent in writing.

Light and pleasurable are probably the best words to describe the body of work of this fulltime lecturer at the Filipino department of Ateneo De Manila University. Although not a full-time writer, Derain admits to always having a rich imagination, as reflected not only in his passion for comic books as a kid but also in the diversity of the themes of his own Palanca winning short stories, all of which are included in his compilation book “ISKRAPBUK.”

“I wrote ‘Ang Regalo ng Taong-Ibon’ in 2006 as a way of introducing readers to the pleasures of bird watching, an activity and passion unfamiliar still to many,” he recalls. My 2007 winning entry, ‘Paputian ng Laba’ on the other hand, is a parody on Pinoy telenovelas and media practices in general and its unholy alliance with giant commercial industries while 2008’s ‘Tatlong Kurimaw’ is a short story for children that imagines children in war zones, on how they cope with stress and trauma through the power of storytelling,” Derain recounted.

Derain has always liked to tell tales in frame-by-frame, storyboard fashion. So when the three-time Palanca awardee for his Filipino short stories decided to write his first novel, “Ang Banal na Aklat ng mga Kumag,” it was just natural for this year’s Palanca Grand Prize winner for the Nobela category to follow a similar formula.

“The novel was originally written as a short story in vignettes. When I presented it in the UP National Writers Workshop, I was encouraged to develop these vignettes into full-bodied scenes or chapters and re-imagine the whole thing with a bigger project in mind, as a novel or a play perhaps. I opted for the first,” he shared.

Derain said the loose structure of the novel actually augured well in demystifying “the myths, legends and folktales of our collective unconsciousness” that it tackles.

“The novel imagines how a religion for kumags (or people generally regarded as insignificant) could be started, how it could win devotees, and how this devotion could spread on earth starting here in our very own country,” Derain said. “Mythical in its sensibility, I determined the novel’s narrative tone to be light, pleasurable, picaresque and self-reflexive as it pokes fun at both religious fanaticism and literary pretensions of our own history.”

“For its wording, I explored plenty of materials from Banahaw spirituality by such millennarian brotherhoods as Ciudad Mystica and Samahan ng Tatlong Persona Solo Dios with their fantastic fusion of folklore and Christianity,” he further revealed.

A holder of both a bachelor’s and masters degrees in Malikhaing Pagsulat (Creative Writing) from the University of the Philippines, Derain regards most, if not all of his works as “personal projects” that were either later submitted to contests, to magazines for possible publication, or as fulfillment for his writing class requirements.

As for the Palanca awards, what continues to encourage Derain to submit entries from time to time is “its archive.”

“I like the fact a wider readership is given knowledge about my works through Palanca’s website,” he enthuses. “There are students and teachers who came to know about my works through this website who would email me from time to time asking for a copy of my stories.”

“Knowing that my work is being read and studied by students is a strong affirmation that I’m doing something good and worthwhile,” he adds.

Now in its 61st year, the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature remains one of the most prestigious and sought-after literary awards in the Philippines. The Novel categories in Filipino and English Divisions of the Palanca Awards open every other three years, making the novel a much-anticipated category of the competition.

Palanca Awards winning works are made accessible to students, and all researchers and lovers of literature, through the Carlos Palanca Foundation library and its official website, www.palancaawards.com.ph.

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