National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose recently returned to his alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas, where he spoke alongside European diplomats during a forum about European literature.
For the most part, Jose did not focus on the Western classics, save for bragging about the fact that by Grade 5, he had already read Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha.
The 92-year-old gave some advice to teachers and students who were studying to be teachers. “Never, never give your students literary works (and) novels that are boring!”
To the audience’s laughter, he enumerated the Filipino authors whose works he believed would send readers into deep slumber.
“Never give NVM Gonzales. He is very boring. Or (Edith) Tiempo. She is very boring,” he said.
“Nick Joaquin is a very good writer, but don’t give his novels. Give his short stories and his journalistic essays. Among the women, give Kerima Polotan and Gilda Cordero, because these are not only very good writers, but they are not dull. There’s nothing more that a student will reject than a very dull writer,” Jose declared.
The multi-award winning author, whose works in English had been translated into other languages, also reminded teachers to know the text before they taught it.
“If you are going to teach literature, the first thing that you should do is look at the text carefully. Know the text,” he said.
Jose was opposed to holding workshops, which he dubbed, “useless.”
“You cannot teach imagination, creativity, intuition. These are things that the writers must learn themselves. Teach them the craft. They must know grammar, syntax, words. Words, particularly words,” he explained.
This would enable students to make the leap from craftsman to artist.
Teachers must nurture budding writers, Jose said, because writers were the “steadfast preservers of memory”.
“Without that memory, there is no nation,” he said.
Known for his Rosales novels spanning the Gomburza to Martial Law years—The Pretenders, Tree, My Brother, My Executioner, Mass, and Po-on—Jose tasked teachers to ensure that their pupils knew Philippine history.
“I’m appalled, having spoken before young audiences in the country…that they know so little of our own history, and that some of them have even said that (Ferdinand) Marcos was our best president ever. So, I realized, that…my generation has failed to teach them the facts of life, and of history itself,” he said.
“And don’t you ever forget that as teachers, you have a very, very noble profession,” he added. “Next to motherhood, teaching, I think, is the most noble of professions.”