Q&A with Filipino Writer Vicente García Groyón
Eight international writers are exploring the Mid-Atlantic and the American South as part of Writers in Motion, an initiative of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. City of Asylum/Pittsburgh writer-in-residence Khet Mar is one of the participants.
Khet Mar is introducing some of her traveling partners in a series of short interviews. Today we present her Q&A with Vicente García Groyón.
Vicente García Groyón won the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award both for the novel The Sky Over Dimas (2004) and for On Cursed Ground and Other Stories (2005); he is the editor of several anthologies and collections of Filipino fiction. He has written four film scripts, including Agaton and Mindy (2009) and Namets! (2008), and directed several shorts. He teaches creative writing at De La Salle University in Manila.
Here Vicente García Groyón talks about almost 20 years of censorship against journalists in the Philippines and his passion for non-fiction writing and film scripts, among other topics.
In the Philippines do journalists and fiction writers face the same challenges?
I feel that journalists in the Philippines are more vulnerable to violence—physical or otherwise—because their work tends to be more read,viewed or heard. Also, because their work is presented as truth, it is perceived as more dangerous and damaging if it criticizes or attacks powerful institutions, especially the government. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 71 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1992. I believe this number might be higher, if we include journalists who have disappeared. Very few of these cases are ever brought to justice.
Literary writers, on the other hand, are generally safer, because their work reaches fewer readers.. Contemporary Filipino literary writers usually do not have to deal with censorship and persecution.
You write fiction, non-fiction and film scripts. Which is the most interesting for you to write? Why?
My fiction writing is what I deem to be the most important. Perhaps it’s because fiction is the first kind of writing that I did, and the one I like to read.
However, I’m interested in non-fiction and screenplays because they also deliver narratives, and both tend to attract a larger readership. It can be quite frustrating to work long and hard on a novel only to be read by very few readers. I dabble in film making because I suspect that this will be (if it isn’t already) the main way that people will choose to receive narratives. Students at the university today are usually more willing to watch a narrative than read it.
However, I still tend to think of non-fiction and screenplays as narrative writing, which is why I continue to do them.
What kind of relationship is built among young Filipino writers today? Does this relationship unite the young writers or cause them to compete with one another?
Young Filipino writers often become friends because they underwent a creative writing workshop together, or attended the same creative writing classes, or teach at the same schools. The writing community in the Philippines is rather small, and people tend to know each other.
I believe that this writing community tends to foster a healthy competition among young writers, although some genres seem to be more competitive than others. I feel this is a good thing, because it allows writers to feed off each other, inspire each other, and generally keep the literary scene alive and developing.
You are a writer and you teach creative writing at De La Salle University in Manila. Do you write your stories with the same curriculum that you teach your students? What are some of the challenges in switching between writing and teaching?
I find it very difficult to teach creative writing, mainly because much of the process remains mysterious to me, and because I feel that writing per se cannot really be taught. The best thing that a teacher can do is introduce students to writing techniques and the writing life, as well as point out things in a student’s work that are worth developing further. Usually I introduce students to the writing techniques and methods that have been useful to me in the past.
Often, the teaching disrupts the writing. After reading and grading a stack of student pieces, I often no longer have energy to think or write. The advantage is that I’m constantly forced to keep up with developments in creative writing around the Philippines and the world, which eventually helps to shape and inform my own work.
Do you plan to use your experiences on this tour in your fiction writing? If so, how?
The things I experience usually end up in my fiction, one way or the other. Sometimes they turn up without my being aware of it. This study tour has shown me things I’ve never seen before and allowed me to experience things I have never undergone before. I can’t say for sure if I will use these in my fiction exactly as they were, but they will creep in, in one form or the other.
Read more about Khet Mar on the Road
Read Khet Mar’s Q & A with Cambodian Writer Alice Pung here.
Read Vicente García Groyón’s criticism on a play, “Information for Foreigners”
Read Writers in Motion Blog