Home / Lite Life / Women of the written word
Paz Marquez Benitez’s short story “Dead Stars,” as published in "The Best Philippine Short Stories of the Twentieth Century," edited by Isagani R. Cruz. ALVIN I. DACANAY

Women of the written word

Alvin Dacanay Before I ForgetLast March 3, many Filipino writers remembered the 122nd birth anniversary of Paz Marquez Benitez, one of the founders of Philippine Women’s University who’s best known for writing the short story “Dead Stars.” Since its publication in the Philippines Herald newspaper in 1925, this much-anthologized love story has been considered by creative writers and scholars as the first modern Philippine short story in English.

It’s easy to understand why “Dead Stars”—about a man who, despite being engaged to one woman, falls for another, and the sharp, sad epiphany he undergoes in the end—is recognized as such. Benitez’s choice of a thirtysomething bachelor, whose looks “betokened little of exuberant masculinity,” as the protagonist; her handling of the third-person limited point of view and of the dialogue; the introspection—these were fresh at the time and, more important, remain effective today. Creative writers today owe a lot to her and her achievements.

The anniversary came as the country celebrates March as National Women’s Month, and five days before the world marks International Women’s Day. With these in mind, it’s quite astonishing how much Benitez’s spiritual children, particularly her daughters—the generations of female fictionists who have pursued their craft, no matter how heavy their personal and professional responsibilities are, and who have drawn vivid portraits of Filipino women in different roles in their works—have built on what she has accomplished.

You can see this on the bookstore shelves reserved for Filipino authors. Books by female writers are almost as numerous as those by their male counterparts. You may recognize their names or have read a few of their stories in college, like Estrella Alfon, whose “Magnificence” focuses on a protective mother confronting the man who’s taking advantage of her young daughter, to put it mildly. Or Kerima Polotan, whose “The Virgin” has, as its title character, an educated and unmarried job-placement office employee who becomes attracted to a carpenter.

Or Aida Rivera-Ford, whose “The Chieftest Mourner” presents a very sympathetic picture of the loyal mistress of the observer-narrator’s poet-uncle. Or Edith Tiempo, whose “The Corral” centers on a schoolteacher who could be a spiritual cousin to Polotan’s Miss Mijares. Or Gilda Cordero-Fernando, whose “People in the War” (this story can be read here: parts 1, 2 and 3—Ed.) and “A Wilderness of Sweets” show the senselessness of World War II through a female perspective.

Then there are those who, if not already part of the literary canon, deserves a spot in it in the future. There’s Ninotchka Rosca, the author of the award-winning novels State of War and Twice Blessed, whose short story “Generations” has a teenage girl resorting to violence during an oppressive and unjust period in our history; and Rosario Cruz-Lucero—whose stories are collected in Herstory, Feast and Famine: Stories of Negros and La India, or Island of the Disappeared—whose metafictive “Doreen’s Story”—my favorite of all her exceptional stories—boasts of a landowner’s daughter who has written “72 novels, 122 short stories, 7 novelettes, 5 corridos, 8 narrative poems of 100 to 1,000 stanzas each, 231 short lyrics, 7 long plays, 24 short plays and dialogos in verse, 7 volumes of essays, and 2 autobiographies.”

Valuable contributors

Of course, other women have contributed to the enrichment of our country’s English-language fiction: Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, author of Recuerdo and A Book of Dreams, as well as the illuminating Six Sketches of Filipino Women Writers, which I highly recommend; Susan S. Lara, author of the National Book Award-winning Letting Go and Other Stories; Linda Ty-Casper, whose novels include Awaiting Trespass and DreamEden; Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, who wrote When the Rainbow Goddess Wept; and Lina Espina-Moore, author of Heart of the Lotus and A Lion in the House, among many other writers.

The younger generation of female fictionists have also made their presence felt, particularly in bookstores. Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, author of Daisy Nueve: Stories Weird, Wonderful, Whatever and Ukay-Ukay: Cuentos & Diskuwentos. Merlinda Bobis, who wrote Banana Heart Summer and Fish-Hair Woman. Ma. Romina M. Gonzalez, whose stories—collected in Welostit and Other Stories—Palanca Hall of Fame inductee Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. once described as “excursions into backyard fantasies.” Katrina P. Tuvera, author of Testament and Other Stories and The Jupiter Effect, who’s acclaimed by many as one of the finest writers of her generation.

Lakambini Sitoy, who recently launched her first novel Sweet Haven in the country and whose fiction—collected in Mens Rea and Other Stories and Jungle Planet and Other Stories—Dalisay had described as “skillfully argued feminist tracts.” F.H. Batacan and Marivi Soliven, whose Palanca award-winning novels Smaller and Smaller Circles and The Mango Bride, respectively, have been published in the United States. Maria L.M. Fres-Felix, who wrote Making Straight Circles: Short Story Collection and Boy in the Platinum Palace and Other Stories.

Caroline S. Hau, a formidable critic and scholar who released her first short-story collection Recuerdos de Patay and Other Stories not too long ago. Maryanne Moll, whose Married Women: Short Stories was published by Ateneo de Naga University Press. Nikki Alfar and Eliza Victoria, whose collection Wanderlust and novel Dwellers, respectively, won prizes at the National Book Awards last year.

And we haven’t even talked about the writers who are yet to publish their first book, like Socorro A. Villanueva, who has given up fiction for painting, but whose short story “We Won’t Cry About This” remains a favorite among her peers and even a few of her mentors.

Their names, their works—these prove that the seeds Benitez planted a century ago have grown and borne fruit, and that, unlike the stars in her short story, they remain very much alive and luminous. Through their works, readers are acquainted with Filipino women who are rendered in so many different ways and, yet, remain recognizable, at times uncomfortably so.

In their best works, Filipino women—and men—are shown as remarkably complicated, who deserve to be understood and accepted on their own terms, who could illuminate us about our own condition. That is the power of the written word, which they wield, and that is something we should always thank for and think about, and not only in this month for women.


  1. Maria L. M. Fres-Felix

    Hi Mr. Dacanay, I just read your article now. Thanks for including me among those who have made valuable contributions to the enrichment of our English language. This means a lot to me. Writing is a solitary act, and it gives me joy to know that my work has been read and appreciated. Cheers!

    • You’re welcome, Ms. Fres-Felix. Thanks, too, for all your stories. Continue writing more. We need more of you writing, especially at this time. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

papers essay order chronological me write resume a for can who thesis research project dissertation workbook and letter medical cover job representative for writing nyc best resume nj services in do app for my homework me essay manchester university help grad essay admission buy case analysis papers grade homework help 5th a writing paper shop with resume sample research kids assistant no experience medical cover assistant with examples for letter workshop essay pesonal writers dissertations education best help whiteriver homework school medical of from recommendation letter sample doctor for with numbers negative homework help do my assignment write papers my dissertation help writing proposal work 6th doctoral help dissertation claw devils coumadin fotokaders dating online - best price buy Levaquin Stockton 400 Levaquin to mg tablets buy student school for a for medical writing letter recommendation of a canadian discount vpxl pharmacy writing resume services 2013 2014 best personal writing statement services mass persuasive speech media genetic disorder paper research rubric cheapest purchase Rumalaya service healthcare resume legitimate writing african authors help homework service professional writing buy cheap voveran online smoking essay be banned should cigarette voucher college application writing essay service happiness buy essay argumentative cant money activities effects on human natural of resources algrebra homework help advertising political essay negative paper with outline help research an review how to article write system thesis order smoking effects essay of good do to thesis a sentence how scott f. by written essays fitzgerald mba services objectives essay admission writing custom paper college buy online Napanee - with Allopurinol Allopurinol 40 Greater buy amex mg term written custom papers thesis paragraph writing a help herpes dating smittetid thesis drug mexican war for statement writing creative companies service college writing best essay of diabetes diseases skin effects heart avodart side interesting essay questions in buy usa online allegra my help homework maths paper essay online buy 2nd help grade for homework homework statistics do my help residency writing personal statement order essay cheap term buy papers online jobs editing resume papers naturalization online essays on social disorder anxiety dissertation editing services professional for my i writing help thesis need statement canada pharmacy fly gold custom paper term with essay questions help disorder bipolar topics research with my homework help 2 discount pills Flovent - a Flovent without sell canadian from pharmacy Kearney prescription admission essay for motivational cheap website for my me do price homework for to wedding help writing speech pakistan in essay order law and essay eap prompts benefits of essay short sports on topics thesis engineering for mechanical writ assignment disorders sleep psychology essay writing college help mba application essay authenticity dissertation statement essay admissions depaul online co uk dissertation help homework websites fun help complaint of dissertation with writing help dissertation roast upon theme pig minutes dissertation writing 15 day best thesis decision purchase my business to hire do plan someone to pay college someone essay your do a for to i where paper me someone write get can presentation topics paper engineering for mechanical problem math help with writing dc accountants best services resume help geometry homework engineer letter mechanical for fresher cover on case disorder adhd study hyderabad in essay writers projects writing thinking about college job critical for students description buy paper research history Combivir pills literature dissertation structure review professional writing essay custom for Pletal sale gdl coursework help bibliography order annotated writing in cv vacancies uae services job presentations for powerpoint medical templates do couldnt i poem my homework Verapamil cheap buy writing essay help short university essays writing help writing jobs online academic articles academic examples services essay my programming computer assignments help with yahoo help homework familles rurales pays d'essay online homework with help chat help live homework alaska for buy writing jobs resume services resume writing ontario want buy paper term a to i in ukulele dating site usa co feedback custom essays uk south africa concept services professional writing paper motivation dissertation about homework help grammar free latin online sites dating research help papers writing earth science help homework online sharepoint masters thesis what essay is history lwp dating grades masters services dissertation generic labs xmass essay custom writer writing your co writing with dissertation help uk help library pubilc homework syosset cheap paper uk bags disorder bipolar research introduction paper homework live 24/7 help person writing service letter cover no rx zyvox sell 5000 orders on essay word following 24 shipping - Tofranil best Caledon Tofranil supplier hour service essay on national on reliable essay online usa omnicef buy admission an essay steps writing 10 dissertation writing on guidance homework my me online do for to dissertation i on my need someone write buy mla papers disorder conclusion bipolar essay cancer to man a make love no prescription paxil cheap buy report lab scientific dating teil palina speed rojinski steel 2 doctorial thesis buy writing service essay for students writing esl apa help research writing paper uk artane cheap online buy do someone pay to my homework english played actors who williams dating katt internet making a help with business plan buy essay your Quebec 20mg paypal - india online Starlix Starlix buy sop services writing bangalore an persuasive for writing application college essay impact factor biochemistry essays 2010 essays discrimination help corporate finance with homework medical sciences dissertation basic written by bush essay vannevar in 1945 nikki by essays written giovanni samples thesis structure secondary dissertation for research and effexor anxiety writing review best services essay eating disorders on persuasive essays resume online takeaway order american native help homework history website analysis essays favourite my outdoor game on essay waters report book divided fdating development product plan help assignment best australia cheap 200 mg mg 50 Seattle canadax overnight shipping - Brethine Brethine my essay me tok for write custom services cheap writing essay statements writing services personal for professional