In the Philippines, August is generally celebrated as Buwan ng Wika, or the month of language. For four weeks, we honor the languages spoken by Filipinos from the northernmost mountains to the southernmost islands, and this blog isn’t going to be any different. Part of celebrating Buwan ng Wika is an event called Buwan ng Mga Akdang Pinoy, the month of works written by Filipinos. You already know that one of my Half-Year Resolutions is to read more diverse books, inspired by Naz from Read Diverse Books. As part of that commitment, and in celebration of Buwan ng Wika, I present a list of my favorite Filipino authors!
1. Bino Realuyo
This guy is the definition of #goals. Bino Realuyo is a Filipino-American novelist and poet born and raised in Manila, although he spent most of his adult life in New York City. Aside from his literary works, he also publishes essays on the Filipino-American community in the Huffington Post and GMA News. He has also worked for human rights organizations, labor unions, and adult education in New York City. His literary awards include a Van Lier Foundation Fellowship for poetry, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for fiction, an Urban Artist Initiative Grant for fiction, a Queens Council on the Arts for poetry, and a 2009 Philippine National Book Award.
What to read: Although known for his poetry, my favorite Realuyo work would have to be his novel, The Umbrella Country. This novel tells the story of eleven-year-old Gringo and his family, and of a life of hardship and resilience in 1970s Manila.
2. Erin “Rin” Chupeco
Rin Chupeco is probably not as prolific an author as some of the names mentioned in this list, but she makes it anyway because a) her writing is fresh, amusing, and captivating; and b) the girl’s got a wicked sense of humor. I can’t really explain it, but visit her website if you want to understand what I mean. In particular, check out her About Me page. It’s hilarious and had me grinning the entire time I was reading it. I think it’s also worth mentioning that she is one of the only three Filipino authors who are published by international literary houses but are still based here in the Philippines (the other two, Kate Evangelista and Samantha Sotto, are also mentioned here).
What to read: Rin Chupeco’s first work, The Girl from the Well, is a YA take on the Japanese horror story, Bancho Sarayashiki, which itself inspired the popular horror movie The Ring. Protip: don’t read this at night. Just. Don’t.
3. Felisa Batacan
Known professionally as F.H. Batacan, Felisa is a writer of mystery and crime fiction. Mostly, local publishers settle for 500-1000 copies for an initial print run. But by 2006, Felisa’s book Smaller and Smaller Circles had gone through four print runs and had sold over six thousand copies. That was more than ten years ago, so imagine how much more it’s sold since then. Work it, home girl.
What to read: Smaller and Smaller Circles has been widely regarded as one of the first crime fiction novels in the Philippines. It’s about two Jesuit priests who, fed up with the inefficiency of the National Bureau of Investigation, take it upon themselves to investigate the serial murders of young boys in the Payatas region.
4. Noël Alumit
Noël Alumit is an LA-based novelist, actor, and activist who was worked as an HIV/AIDs educator with the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team. He has written and performed in a variety of Los Angeles productions and has won awards including an Emerging Voices Fellowship from PEN Center USA West and the the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists’ Prize. He is also pretty dang cute.
What to read: His novel, Letters to Montgomery Clift, is a coming-of-age story revolving around a young boy who is sent to the U.S. by his parents in order to avoid the brutality of the Marcos regime. Not only does the protagonist have to navigate an entirely new landscape, he must do so while undergoing the trials brought along by sexual discovery and mental illness.
5. Lualhati Bautista
One of the most illustrious names in Filipino literature, Lualhati Bautista is a Filipino novelist known for her contemporary fiction. Her novels were often centered around the theme of exposing the injustices done to women during the Marcos regime. She became a national fellow for fiction of the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center in 1986 and served as vice-president of the Screenwriters Guild of the Philippines and chair of the Kapisanan ng mga Manunulat ng Nobelang Popular.
What to read: Dekada ‘70 is the story of a middle-class family caught in the tumult of the Marcos regime. The novel takes place after the events of the bombing of Plaza Miranda, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and the proclamation of Martial Law. The story is told from the point of view of Amanda Bartolome, a mother of five boys.
6. Brian Ascalon Roley
Brian Roley is an author of Filipino descent raised in Los Angeles. His work was featured in the California Council for the Humanities statewide reading campaign of 2004 and continues to be taught in classrooms at many high schools and universities in the U.S. His novels and short stories draw heavily from his experiences and struggles as a second-generation Filipino-American.
What to read: Roley’s first novel, American Son, is the story of two Fil-Am brothers whose lives go in vastly opposite directions, as well as their mother, who migrated to the States in hopes of a better life but is now divorced from her husband and struggles to keep her two sons in line.
7. Samantha Sotto
From full-time mom to internationally-published author, Samantha Sotto proves that stay-at-home parents aren’t the mindless zombies we of the high-powered career set believe them to be. She doesn’t even describe herself as an author; she calls herself a “mom who wrote a book”. But make no mistake, Samantha Sotto is a writer. Her first novel has been widely praised – and was first written in a coffee shop while Samantha was waiting for her son’s classes to finish!
What to read: Before Ever After is Samantha’s first novel. It’s about a widow, Shelley, who meets a man who claims to be her dead husband’s grandson, and, even shockingly, that said husband, Max, is not in fact dead. They travel through Europe tracking Max down, and as they do so, Shelley recounts the European travel tour where she and Max first met.
8. Kate Evangelista
Kate Evangelista got her start on Wattpad, but don’t let that deter you. Occasionally, the cesspit of Wattpad produces a few okay authors. Kate Evangelista’s stuff are nothing special to be honest, but they’re refreshing, well-written, and just all-around a good read to check out when you want some good old-fashioned chick lit.
What to read: Honestly, everything she’s ever written is like your favorite fanfiction, nice and uncomplicated and romantic. Take your pick: fake relationships in No Love Allowed, being in love with your best friend and not saying anything in No Holding Back (which wins bonus points for being gay fiction), a shy bookworm attracting a playboy in Romancing the Bookworm. It all makes for wonderfully distracting light reading.
9. Eliza Victoria
Eliza Victoria is the author of several novels, short stories, and poems, a lot of which have won awards both here and abroad. She’s a recent discovery for me, although she’s been writing for much longer. I’ve read two of her books and a collection of short stories and can’t find anything yet that I didn’t like. In 2013, one of her short stories was included in The Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2013, featuring stories from authors such as Ken Liu, Lavie Tidhar, Sofia Samatar, Nnedi Okorafor, and Neil Gaiman.
What to read: Her best-selling novel, Dwellers, is about two young men with the ability to inhabit the bodies of others. She also has a collection of short stories called A Bottle of Storm Clouds. It’s rare that I like every short story in an anthology, but there was nothing in that collection that I disliked. Nothing.
10. Jessica Hagedorn
A playwright, a poet, and a novelist, Jessica Hagedorn has worn many literary hats, but she’s perhaps known most for her novels showing the complexities of the Filipino diaspora. She’s also a professor, having taught in the MFA Playwriting Program at Yale, and in the MFA Creative Writing Program at LIU Brooklyn, NYU and Columbia University. Dang girl. Slay.
What to read: Um, everything? Okay, but seriously, my favorites are Dogeaters, which addresses several social, political and cultural issues present in the Philippines during the 1950s; and The Gangster of Love, which is about a Filipino family that migrates to San Francisco and the age-old Filipino problem of live in Manila versus life in the States.
Do you have a favorite Filipino author? Tell me in the comments!