By Alvin I. Dacanay
Members of Manila’s literary community last week expressed grief and gratitude for, and paid tribute to, prize-winning writer and editor Luis Joaquin M. Katigbak, who succumbed to complications from diabetes and kidney disease on April 20. He was 41.
Katigbak’s death came 10 days after he suffered what his friend and acclaimed short-story writer Angelo R. Lacuesta, quoting intensive-care specialist Dr. Jose Emmanuel “Jep” M. Palo, described as a stroke so extensive that “meaningful recovery was no longer possible.”
He had been confined in The Medical City (TMC) in Pasig City since last December.
In a report, GMA News Online quoted Lacuesta as saying that Katigbak’s remains were cremated last Wednesday night. His burial was reportedly set for Sunday.
Among those saddened by Katigbak’s passing was novelist, essayist, critic and scholar Dr. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, one of his professors at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, from where he graduated with a degree in Creative Writing.
“I have followed his development as a writer and editor with great pleasure and admiration. He was among his generation’s finest,” Hidalgo wrote of Katigbak on her Facebook account. “Rest in peace now, Luis. Your life, though short, was well-lived.”
“I woke up to news that one of the best writers of my generation has passed. It feels unreal, like a terrible story I want to rewrite. Good night, Luis. Thank you for your kindness and your words,” Salamanca author and speculative-fiction champion Dean Francis Alfar wrote in a Facebook post.
“Farewell to Luis Katigbak, one of the best writers of our generation, and a darn good human being, too. We’ll see you on the other side,” wrote award-winning fictionist and essayist Lakambini Sitoy on Facebook.
Born on July 26, 1974, Katigbak is the author of two collections of short stories, Happy Endings (University of the Philippines Press, 2000) and Dear Distance: Stories (Anvil Publishing, 2016), and a collection of essays and columns titled The King of Nothing to Do: Essays on Nothing and Everything (Milflores Publishing, 2006).
Both Happy Endings—which has been reprinted several times—and The King of Nothing to Do were nominated at the National Book Awards.
“Among our foremost writers, Luis Katigbak is of a special class: supreme sui generis, very much his own man and artist. So the kind and character of his works: very rare, exceptional, unique, maverick, exceedingly original fiction: rara avis that’s a quantum leap away and departure, and impervious to the slightest comparison, influence, any similarity and authorial interchangeability,” Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards Hall of Fame inductee Gregorio Brillantes wrote in a blurb in Dear Distance, which was released in March.
Katigbak won Palanca awards for “Nico’s Flight” (second prize, short story for children, 1998), “Subterrania” (first prize, futuristic fiction, 2000), “Mico and Friends” (first prize, short story for children, 2002), and “Dear Distance” (third prize, short story, 2008).
He also won a Philippines Graphic literary award and a Young Artists’ grant from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.
His stories had appeared not only in the Philippines Graphic, but also in the now-defunct Philippines Free Press, the Likhaan Book of Poetry and Fiction, and East magazine.
Katigbak was also a music journalist who covered and promoted the Philippine independent music scene for years, and featured and reviewed Filipino rock bands in such magazines as Pulp and Burn, which he co-founded. He contributed the columns “The King of Nothing to Do” and “Senses Working Overtime” for The Manila Bulletin and The Philippine Star, respectively.
Music website Pinoytuner called Katigbak a “staggering talent,” and described him as “a guy who set an impossibly high bar not just in rock journalism, but also in defending stuff you cared about sans pomp and snark, in criticism grounded in sincere love and admiration, rather than sheer vitriol.”
Katigbak was the founding editor-in-chief of the online music magazine Pulse.ph, and was editor-at-large of UNO magazine. Before he was hospitalized, Katigbak worked for five years as associate editor of Esquire Philippines, which posted a tribute to him on its Facebook page.
“Luis was an incredible writer who approached every subject with great intelligence and style, and he raised the bar for those who came after him. He was a formidable talent, but more than that, he was also a mentor, an advisor, and a friend to everyone at Esquire,” it said in part.
Katigbak is survived by his father Luis; siblings Che and Marien; sister-in-law Sarah and niece Kaya; and girlfriend Micaela Benedicto, an architect, artist and musician.