PinoyLit: Nick Joaquin

Nick Joaquin's pic Poet, fictionist, essayist, biographer, playwright, and National Artist, decided to quit after three years of secondary education at the Mapa High School. Classroom work simply bored him. He thought his teachers didn't know enough. He discovered that he could learn more by reading books on his own, and his father's library had many of the books he cared to read. He read all the fiction he could lay his hands on, plus the lives of saints, medieval and ancient history, the poems of Walter de la Mare and Ruben Dario. He knew his Bible from Genesis to Revelations. Of him actress-professor Sarah K. Joaquin once wrote: "Nick is so modest, so humble, so unassuming . . .his chief fault is his rabid and insane love for books. He likes long walks and wornout shoes. Before Intramuros was burned down, he used to make the rounds of the churches when he did not have anything to do or any place to go. Except when his work interferes, he receives daily communion." He doesn't like fish, sports, and dressing up. He is a bookworm with a gift of total recall.

He was born "at about 6:00 a.m." in Paco, Manila, on 04 May 1917. The moment he emerged from his mother's womb, the baby Nicomedes--or Onching, to his kin--made a "big howling noise" to announce his arrival. That noise still characterizes his arrival at literary soirees. He started writing short stories, poems, and essays in 1934. Many of them were published in Manila magazines, and a few found their way into foreign journals. His essay La Naval de Manila (1943) won in a contest sponsored by the Dominicans whose university, the UST, awarded him an A.A. (Associate in Arts) certificate on the strength of his literary talents. The Dominicans also offered him a two-year scholarship to the Albert College in Hong Kong, and he accepted. Unable to follow the rigid rules imposed upon those studying for the priesthood, however, he left the seminary in 1950.

He is included in Heart of the Island (1947) and Philippine Poetry Annual: 1947 - 1949 (1950), both edited by Manuel A. Viray.

The following are Joaquin's published books:

Prose and Poems (1952)
The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961)
Selected Stories (1962)
La Naval de Manila and Other Essays (1964)
The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1966)
Tropical Gothic (1972)
The Complete Poems and Plays of Jose Rizal (1976)
Reportage on Crime (1977)
Reportage on Lovers (1977)
Nora Aunor and Other Profiles (1977)
Ronnie Poe and Other Silhouettes (1977)
Amalia Fuentes and Other Etchings (1977)
Gloria Diaz and Other Delineations (1977)
Doveglion and Other Cameos (1977)
A Question of Heroes (1977)
Stories for Groovy Kids (1979)
Almanac for Manileños (1979)
Manila: Sin City and Other Chronicles (1980)
Language of the Street and Other Essays (1980)
Reportage on the Marcoses (1979, 1981)

The awards and prizes he has received include:

Republic Cultural Heritage Award (1961);
Stonehill Award for the Novel (1960);
first prize, Philippines Free Press Short Story Contest (1949);
first prize, Palance Memorial Award (1957-58);
Jose Garcia Villa's honor roll (1940);
and the National Artist Award (1976).

From the jacket of A Question of Heroes: "Along with the author's recent 'culture as History,' [this book is] a gentle polemical inquiry into thecharacter of the Filipinos' national culture, these essays constitute perhaps the most coherent picture of the revolutionary heritage most Filipinos claim for themselves today."

"Nick Joaquin is, in my opinion," wrote Jose Garcia Villa, "the only Filipino writer with a real imagination--that imagination of power and depth and great metaphysical seeing--and which knows how to express itself in great language, who writes poetry, and who reveals behind his writings a genuine first-rate mind."

"Joaquin has proven the truism," said Alejandro R. Roces, "that to understand the present, you have to first know the past. And by presenting the present as a continuation of the future, he has traced the roots of our rotting society to our moral confusion. He is doing for the Philippines what Faulkner has done for the [U.S.] South."

"Nick Joaquin," said Manuel A. Viray, "a gifted stylist, has used his sensitive style and his exciting evocations in portraying the peculiar evil, social and moral, we see around us and in proving that passion as well as reason can never be quenched."

After the death of his father, Joaquin went to live with his brother Enrique ("Ike"). With the encouragement of his sister-in-law, Sarah, he submitted a story to the Herald Mid-Week Magazine and it was published. He soon sent out more stories to other magazines. In 1949 "Guardia de Honor" was declared the best story of the year in the Philipines Free Press.

He was designated manager of his sister-in-law Sarah's dramatic organization after WWII. Later he joined the Philippines Free Press as proofreader and subsequently became a rewrite man. He wrote feature articles he bylined as "Quijano de Manila." They were a great hit. Soon they appeared regularly and Quijano de Manila became one of the most famous journalists in the country.

Because of labor problems in the Free Press, he left and edited Asia-Philippine Leader. He had been with the Free Press for 27 years (1950-77). Nicomedes "Onching" M. Joaquin, today just "Nick," who came into the world howling, lives quietly in San Juan del Monte writing, among others, kiddie books. And "he survives on sheer genius," remarks one admirer of his.

Biographical Reference: Filipino Writers in English by Florentino B. Valeros and Estrellita V. Gruenberg, New Day Publishers, Quezon City, 1987.

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