Culture and Memory: F. Sionil Jose Donates Literature Collection to DLSU



National Artist for Literature, former De La Salle University Writer-in-Residence, and former faculty member Dr. F. Sionil Jose donated his collection of manuscripts, published works, and articles to the institution on July 11, 2014, in a ceremony at the DLSU Henry Sy, Sr. Hall.

Also included in the extensive collection are Jose’s “Solidarity,” a magazine on current affairs, ideas, and the arts; autographed copies of books written by friends and colleagues; and his selection of 100 recommended books.

Amusing Recollections and a Lifetime of Writing

Belying his 90 years, the National Artist regaled his audience with his extensive experiences and colorful anecdotes.  In his address, Jose impishly recalled his journal, “Solidarity,” being initially supported by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an anti-communist advocacy group funded by the American Central Intelligence Agency. News of this later broke out, garnering his bookshop the reputation as a CIA front and he, a covert CIA agent. Jose, who at that point, earned his living through his bookshop was, not surprisingly, distressed. “My God, no one would come to this bookshop anymore. We were tainted!” said Jose. As it turned out, the notoriety was a boon to his business as Jose found his bookshop full of customers the next day.

Jose was not one to mince words and neither did he in his address. He recalled how, at various points in his life and through his writings, he would openly call for revolution against the oligarchic structures of Philippine society. These views, recounted Jose, would earn him the label of communist. “I am both a communist and a CIA agent,” noted Jose.

Jose also spoke fondly of an afternoon spent with Robert Frost in a writing workshop in Vermont. In an afternoon walk, Jose recalled how the 80-year-old Frost would outpace him and leave him panting for breath. “He was far healthier than I,” said Jose. Later that day, the National Artist related how Frost, in a solemn, candlelit room, read his own poem. “He mangled it,” said Jose. He then remarked that no poet, unless he had the emotive poise of Richard Burton, should ever read his own poetry.



In a more reflective note in his address, Jose thanked the University for recognizing his ambition to be a teacher as it was a source of fulfillment. He also expressed his gratitude for the support he has received throughout his writing career and those who have touched his life. “To the young people, who have spent time listening to my drivel, and to the older people who have tolerated me all of these years,” said Jose.

Culture, History, Revolution, and Memory

Jose also passionately expounded on the importance of developing and elevating Philippine folk crafts. “For Filipinos to appreciate their culture, we must go down to the basics—to the folk crafts, to the folk dances, to the folk stories, and use these to elevate folk culture into a much higher level.” Jose stated that the folk arts in the Philippines are dying; however, he stressed that for a country to excel in industry, it must hone its folk crafts. This, the National Artist observed, was the reason why Japanese manufacture is excellent as the Japanese hone and excel in their native crafts.

Jose also spoke of Philippine national hero Jose P. Rizal who he claims is a source of inspiration and influenced him as a writer. Jose recounted how, as a youth, reading Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere so moved him that instances of injustice never failed to impel him into feelings of outrage. “This is what we don’t have today. We are no longer outraged by the injustices that occur around us,” said Jose.



He also refuted the notion that Rizal was not a revolutionary. “Anyone who has read the Noli will know at once that Rizal was a revolutionary simply by writing the book. … The man in that novel, the author … who was speaking the truth, who was contextual, who opposed Spanish tyranny, was a revolutionary. What American scholars described as the first postcolonial writer,” said Jose.

While Jose expressed his concern that many Filipinos lacked memory, he was hopeful that the collection would link a reader to the collective history of our nation. “The primary objective of the writer, as I see it, is to give our people memory. In giving our people memory, I am so happy that La Salle has agreed to keep my books because I hope that, in the future, somebody might read them and remember,” he said.

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