II. The Middle Period – 1930 to 1960
Filipino writers in English began by mastering vocabulary, learning the mechanics of grammar, and imitating established Western writers. Indeed, the early period of Philippine Literature in English was a time of learning by trial and error. But by 1925 the extent and quality of writing had greatly improved. Perhaps, it is wrong to say that the early period ended in 1930. For it really faded out around the mid 20s and the middle period of Philippine Literature began somewhere in the early 30s. The transition was gradual and it overlapped.
Leopoldo Yabes has called the years 1930 to 1944 “…the most productive of distinctive work in the half century of Filipino writing in English.” There were several factors which encouraged writers at this time. Led by Francisco Arcellana and inspired by Jose Garcia Villa, a group formed “The Veronicans.” The writers chose this name because they wanted their work to bear the imprint of Christ’s face. Around the same time, some women writers formed “ The Bachelorettes.” Among their number were Teresa Arzaga, Luisa Barrera, Sally Barrera, Nelly X. Burgos, Olivia Calumpang, Corazon Juliano, Carmen Perez, and Trinidad L. Tarrosa. Both groups explored new dimensions in literary forms. Some of their work appeared in the quarterly Expression and in The Leader, which was edited by Federico Mangahas.
Another important outlet for writers in the 39s was the Graphic Weekly. With Alfredo Elfren Litiatico as literary editor, new writers such as Estrella Alfon, Nick Joaquin, and Ligaya Victorio Reyes were discovered and encouraged.
The Philippine Commonwealth Government was established on July 4, 1935. This event encouraged writers to freely search for a national identity. On October 28, 1936, the Philippine Book Guild was organized. Its early leaders included Manuel E. Arguilla, Carlos Quirino, and Arturo B. Rotor. Their purpose was to create a wider reading public for Filipino writers by printing low – cost books. Among other projects they published Rotor’s The Wound and the Scar.
In 1937 a Brief History of the Philippine Literature was published by Teofilo del Castillo. This book was of special importance since it was one of the first authoritative and objective studies of Philippine Literature.
A few years later, on February 26, 1939, the Philippine Writers League was formed. This was a highly influential organization during its brief existence. Its aims were to provide a center for the cultural activities of Filipino writers, to uplift cultural standards, to stimulate the social consciousness of the writer, to arrange for lectures and conferences, to establish friendly relations with writers for other countries, and to defend freedom of thought and expression. Its first president was Federico Mangahas, while Salvador P. Lopez, Jose A. Lansang, and I. P. Caballero served as Vice – Presidents.
At this time one of the outstanding spokesman for more social consciousness in literature was Salvador P. Lopez. He defined proletarian literature as “The interpretation of the experience of the working class in a world that has been rendered doubly dynamic by its struggles.” He stressed that the writer must champion the cause of the proletariat and interpret the experience of the working class in a world. Lopez directed the writer’s attention to the real Philippines so that he saw and described things which had never been notice or portrayed before.
In 1940 the first Commonwealth Literary Awards were granted by President Quezon. In the English division the winners were: easy - Salvador P. Lopez for Literature and Society; short story - Manuel E. Arguilla for How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife and Other Short Stories; poetry - R. Zulueta da Costa for Like the Molave; and the novel - Juan C. Laya for His Native Soil.
The recognition that these awards provided was an excellent stimulus for all writers. Hopes were high for further developments in Philippine literature. But these hopes were shattered on December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and war began in the Pacific. A period of uncertainty and fear began as the Japanese entered Manila on January 3, 1942. Martial Law was immediately proclaimed. Most writers left the city and fled to the mountains. Many joined the army and fought in Bataan and Corregidor. Some died in prison camps or were executed. Among the promising writers who died during the war years were Manuel E. Arguilla, A.G. Dayrit, A.E. Litiaco, and Francisco B. Icasiano.
Victoria Abelardo has described Filipino writing during the Japanese occupation as being pessimistic and bitter. There were some efforts at escapist literature, but in general the literary output was minor and insignificant. Because of strict censorship, few literary works were printed during the war years. However, some publications were allowed such as The Tribune, Philippine Review, Pillars, Free Philippines, and Filipina.
On February 28, 1945, the long-exiled Commonwealth Government was reestablished in Malacañang. As the country recovered from the war, its writers turned first to journalistic efforts and then to creative works. The Filipino writer observed a country that was devastated by war, shattered economically, and struggling politically. Many journalists freely described what they saw and commented on necessary changes. It was a time of reevaluation and rebuilding. There was a sudden growth of periodicals such as The Manila Posts, The Evening News, The Philippine-American, The Manila Times, and The Manila Chronicle. At the same time Philippines Free Press and the Philippines Herald resumed publication. Once again various college journals appeared such as Literary Apprentice (University of the Philippines), Varsitarian (University of Santo Tomas), National (National University), and Advocate (Far Eastern University). Among te new journals were Crossroads (Far Eastern University), Sands and Coral (Silliman University), Standard (Arellano University), and Dawn (University of the East).
With the proclamation of philippine Independence on July 4, 1946, most writers felt a new sense of responsibility and freedom. The writers seemed more perceptive of their country and the world around them. At first, a number of guerilla and liberation stories appeared. Stevan Javellana's Without Seeing the Dawn was the first postwar Filipino novel published in the United States. In 1946 the Barangay Writers Project was organized to publish books by Filipino writers in English. N.V.M. Gonzalez served as first president. Within a few years, they published Heart of the Island (1947) by Manuel A. Viray, Philippine Cross Section (1950) by Maximo Ramos and Florentino B. Valeros, and Philippine Poetry Annual (1950) by Manuel A. Viray.
At this time literary awards provided further encouragement for creative writing. Delfin Fresnosa and Manuel A. Viray began in 1947 to publish annual honor roles for the best short stories and poems. The Free Press in 1949, resumed its annual short story awards with first place going to Nick Joaquin for his "Guardia de Honor." In 1950 the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature were created. Juan T. Gatbonton's "Clay" won first prize in the English Short Story division.
The early 1950's were a time of political unrest and even warfare as the government struggled with the Hukbalahap guerillas. The writers read each others works as well as the works of Ameriacan and European models. Their study of techniques and thematic treatments resulted in a literature that was varied in form and content. N.V.M. Gonzalez explored his Mindoro land, while Nick Joaquin wrote old Manila legends in modern form.
Signatures, the first Philippine poetry magazine in English, bgan publishing in 1955. It was founded by Clemente Cancio, poet and neurosurgeon. The first editors were A.G. Hufana and R.V. Diaz. In that same year, a new Philippine Writers Association was organized with N.V.M. Gonzalez as its first president.