Women have been writing amazing books about Filipino life and culture for as long as we can remember, and it makes no sense that our attentions be skewed so heavily in favor of the men’s. For the sake of those who need a greater push into spotlight, we are featuring 10 Filipino women writers whose works you definitely have to read.
1. Barbara Jane Reyes.
A poet with a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MFA from San Francisco State University, Reyes is the author of three poetry collections: Gravities of Center (2003), Diwata (2010), and Poeta en San Francisco (2005) which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets.
The Poetry Foundation says her work “explores a variety of cultural, historical, and geographical perspectives,” and that her winning collection Poeta “employs English, Spanish, and Tagalog to create a devastating portrait of her hometown.”
2. Catherine Ceniza Choy.
Born in 1969, Choy is a professor and chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She has written two books on Filipino diasporic history: Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History (2003) and Global Families: A History of Asian International Adoption in America (2013). The latter looks at the complex politics and relationships that compel Americans to adopt Asian children from abroad.
She created a stir with her first book, Empire of Care, which won her the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award in 2003; an Honorable Mention from the American Studies Association Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize in 2004; and the History Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies in 2005.
3. Conchitina Cruz.
Cruz received her MFA in Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and currently teaches creative writing and comparative literature at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
She was the recipient of both the Fulbright and Rockefeller Foundation grants; Palanca Awards in 1996 and 2001; and a Philippine National Book Award in 2006.
She’s written four books so far, which include Dark Hours (UP Press, 2005), elsewhere held and lingered (High Chair, 2008), and (together with Adam David and Delilah Aguilar), A Catalogue of Clothes for Sale from the Closet of Christine Abella—perpetual student, ukay fan, and compulsive traveler (The Youth and Beauty Brigade, 2012).
4. Eileen R. Tabios.
Born in 1960, our third poet on the list is also a prolific editor, anthologist, critic, publisher, conceptual/visual artist and fiction writer. With up to 50 titles in her combined bibliography, she has won the PEN Open Book Award, the Potrero Nuevo Fund Prize, and the PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles National Literary Award, among others.
Tabios is a writer who’s not afraid of crossing genres, mixing fiction with non-fiction as well as various artistic practices. The Poetry Foundation further credits Tabios for having invented the hay(na)ku, a poetic form in which “the first line contains one word, the second line contains two words, and the third line contains three words, for a total of six words.”
5. Felisa Batacan.
Felisa Batacan, also known as F.H. Batacan overseas, is a Filipino journalist and crime fiction writer based in Singapore, whose first novel, Smaller and Smaller Cricles (2002), was considered to be the Philippines’ first crime novel.
Batacan’s novel was published to wide critical acclaim in 2002, even though it had already won the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for the English Novel in 1999. It then went on to win the 2002 National Book Award and the 2003 Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award.
Ten years later, the book would be acquired by New York-based publisher Soho Press, and is due to arrive on bookstands this year.
6. Genevive L. Asenjo.
Known for her ability to write and translate between Filipino, Kinaray-a and Hiligaynon, Asenjo’s first novel, Lumbay ng Dila (2010), won the National Book Award in 2011.
In 2009, she spent half of the year in Seoul as an Overseas Writing Fellow, and in 2012, Asenjo attended the University of Iowa’s prestigious International Writing Program as an Honorary Writing Fellow. On top of being Associate Professor at De La Salle University-Manila, she is also the founder-director of Balay Sugidanun.
7. Jessica Zafra.
You probably have known her for her column, Twisted (1994-2004), which appeared in the newspaper Today (now the Manila Standard Today) before it turned into a book series.
Jessica Zafra is known for her trademark wit and remarkable insight, which she displays in spades across her two collections of short stories, The Stories So Far and Manananggal Terrorizes Manila. She also runs the website, JessicaRulesTheUniverse.com, which you should totally check out.
8. Lakambini Sitoy.
Described as a “brilliant new talent” by the New York Review of Books, Lakambini Sitoy’s first novel, Sweet Haven, had been longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008 and subsequently translated into French in 2011.
Sitoy also had two collections of short stories published: the first, Mens Rea and Other Stories (1999) received the National Book Award in 1999 while her second, Jungle Planet (2006), had been shortlisted. She’s also had the impressive feat of receiving prizes from the Palanca Awards as well as the Philippines Free Press Award.
9. Marjorie Evasco.
Born in 1953, Marjorie Evasco is a poet that prides herself as a true Bol-anon who keeps alive “the memory and spirit of the revolt led by Dagohoy,” committing “her vision through her poetry, believing that the worthy warrior and healer is adept at giving voice to the vision so that others may sing it, too.”
One of the earliest supporters of women’s rights and women writers in the Philippines, she has written a handful of collections and has received in turn a bucket load of awards, including the Palanca and National Book Awards. We recommend starting with Dreamweavers, a collection that details her sense of origin and deals with the intricacies of ancestral heritage.
10. Merlinda Bobis.
Merlinda Bobis was born in Legaspi City, Albay, and is currently based in Australia where she teaches at Wollongong University.
Bobis is a legend: she has published novels, short stories, dramas and poems. Her plays have been produced and performed in more than ten countries around the globe. She went from winning the Most Underrated Book Award from the Small Press Network in Australia in 2013, to snagging the Juan C. Laya Philippine National Book Award for Best Novel in a Foreign Language in 2014.
Want more amazing Pinoy trivia?
Cordite Poetry Review,. (2012). Three Poems by Conchitina Cruz. Retrieved 2 September 2015, from http://goo.gl/BR5NyG
Poetry Foundation,. Barbara Jane Reyes Biography. Retrieved 2 September 2015, from http://goo.gl/oZwh6O
The University of Iowa – International Writing Program,. Genevieve L. Asenjo. Retrieved 2 September 2015, from http://goo.gl/YRuVUy
University of California, Berkeley Department of Ethnic Studies,. Faculty Profile: Catherine Ceniza Choy, Professor and Department Chair. Retrieved 2 September 2015, from http://goo.gl/Vf2XtE