As part of Oyster River Pages's contributor showcase, I answered a few questions about my novel-in-progress, how I confront the rise of authoritarianism and the wounds of my nation's past in my work, and how the COVID pandemic has changed my relationship to art and writing. Many thanks to Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge and the rest of the Oyster River Pages team! You can read that interview here.
"The Life-Affirming Words Of Katherine Mansfield in a Time of Pandemic" Anthologized in Katherine Mansfield and Children (Edinburgh University Press, 2021)
I am excited to share that my essay about drawing strength from Katherine Mansfield's life and work during the first few months of this pandemic has been selected for inclusion in the anthology, Katherine Mansfield and Children, which will be published by the Katherine Mansfield Society and Edinburgh University Press in October 2021. This is a longer version of an essay I wrote that appeared last year in New Zealand's The Pantograph Punch entitled "The Life-Affirming Words of Katherine Mansfield in a Time of Pandemic". I would like to thank Gerri Kimber and Todd Martin for selecting my work, as well as Hannah Newport-Watson for originally publishing it in The Pantograph Punch. Hardback copies can be pre-ordered from the Edinburgh University Press website and from Barnes and Noble.
"The Autumn Sun" (Czech Translation) Anthologized in Kuřata v hadí kleci: Moderní filipínské povídky (Prague: Argo, 2020)
Posting this belatedly, but better late than never: my short story, "The Autumn Sun", was selected by Jaroslav Olsa for translation into Czech and inclusion in the Czech-language anthology of modern Philippine short stories in translation, Kuřata v hadí kleci: Moderní filipínské povídky, published in the Czech Republic by Argo in 2020. "The Autumn Sun" is one of my first short stories, and it was originally published in English by the now-defunct Philippines Free Press in 2007 (belated thanks to Paolo Manalo for selecting my work). It also got me into the University of Texas-Michener Center for Writers in 2010, so it's a story I've very proud of, and I am honored that it has been given a second life in Czech. The anthology is available for purchase here.
I had the honor of reviewing The Memory Eaters, Elizabeth Katesky's beautiful and heartbreaking memoir in essays about grief, loss, and the nature of memory, for Colorado Review. Here's an excerpt from what I wrote:
Central to Elizabeth Kadetsky’s stellar collection of essays about the nature of memory and grief, The Memory Eaters is her mother’s slippage from a world that once defined the parameters of her identity, and her own capacity to navigate it, as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. As Kadetsky grieves, memories from her girlhood and young adulthood come together to shed light upon her mother’s psychological absences and departures that plagued her throughout her life.
Read the rest of the review here.
(Photo credit: Rappler)
In my mind, you are still a young man who has been thrust into the Presidential race after your mother died, awakening in us a rare sense of hope after spending years, perhaps even decades, accepting corruption as a way of life, as the way things will always be. It is the way one survives in this country, by allowing one’s rage and disappointment to be dampened over time as the corruption one witnesses in the highest echelons of government, or in the road projects outside one’s house, or in the glaring inequality one sees day after day after day, becomes a constant in one’s life, a radio static to which one grows frighteningly deaf.
Your mother’s death shook us awake, reminding us of the sacrifices she and your father made for a country that many of us had given up on, whether we still lived here or had packed our bags for more prosperous lands. “Walang pag-asa ang Pilipinas,” I’ve heard Filipinos mutter under their breath, a mantra of disillusionment that makes every effort to improve our lot appear like a complete waste of time. Your father didn’t believe this at all, sacrificing his life for a country that would go on to belittle his sacrifice; your mother didn’t believe this either, putting her own personal safety on the line to help overthrow a dictator and restore democracy. Were we grateful at all for the freedoms we gained from their sacrifices, as we complained about the things your mother did or failed to do during her term, or about all your character flaws, and every single thing you failed to do when you were President? Could we have anticipated the election of another authoritarian who worshipped the dictator your parents helped overthrow, or did some of us simply desire to return to those dark years, harboring a secret wish, as we invoked our freedom of speech to undermine your achievements, to destroy all our hopes for a better tomorrow?
For this is the one thing you gave us, which your predecessors failed to instill in us: a capacity for hope. Unlike your predecessors, you vowed to go after corrupt officials who lined their pockets with our hard-earned money, after tax evaders who drained our country’s resources by refusing to pay their fair share. You knew that these were the people who held our country back, whose unprosecuted crimes diminished our faith in a government that was meant to serve us. You knew that a culture of corruption led to a collective disillusionment that corrupted our souls, and allowed us to accept the moral degeneracy around us as a fact of life. Perhaps even you could not completely fathom the depths of our own corruption, and our capacity to elect a leader who speaks with relish about murder and rape. My heart breaks when people make a joke of your death, making me wonder if our moral center has died with your passing.
My mother sobbed this morning when we learned of your death. We used to criticize you too, but there’s something about your untimely departure that makes me unbearably sad. These are dark times in which even I have lost the capacity to hope, and with your passing I ask myself if I still have the strength to keep my remaining embers of hope warm and ready. They made a mockery of your legacy in recent years, and not once did you try to defend yourself, even as your quiet accomplishments came to light in spite of all efforts to erase these from people’s memories. Some of my own friends have distanced themselves from you to avoid being labeled “dilawans”, a cuss word spat out to belittle you and the people who still believe in what you stood for.
The Philippine Left will of course dismiss your achievements, in the same way that they belittled your intellect and harassed you with all sorts of ableist insults when you were President. They will still try to vilify you, if only to erase from people’s memories their initial unabashed support of the current President, their acceptance of cushy government positions in exchange for their silence over the ongoing genocide of our nation’s poor. Despite their efforts to make us forget about your sacrifices and the selflessness of your parents, not all of us will forget. I will never forget.
departures, a collection of essays by priscilla Supnet Macansantos, out from the university of the philippines press
I'm happy to share that my mother's collection of essays, Departures, is out from the University of the Philippines Press under the 2021 Philippine Writers Series. It's available for purchase from Lazada and the UP Press bookstore.
About the Book
In this collection of essays, the author reflects on her life and times, including those of family members, whose lives were marked by departures from home, hometown and homeland. Woven into the fabric of individual lives are events and “upheavals” in history – the peasant unrest in the early 20th century, the war in the 1940s, martial rule, the 1990 Luzon earthquake, and the 2020 pandemic – leading to departure and separation. Macansantos writes with candor and melancholy, though not without hopefulness, because memory bears many gifts, including understanding and insight, and possibly, healing.
Advance Praise from Jose Y. Dalisay Jr.
"This isn’t just the story of a father or a mother, or of the author herself – it’s the enlarging biography of a community, a region, a corner of Philippine society that those of us more familiar with Eastwood and Greenhills know and care little about. From Macansantos, we can trace a line straight back to Bulosan, and even earlier to those first Ilocano expatriates whose stories will forever lie unspoken, because they did not have articulate grandchildren to record and relate them.
These narratives are laden with violence – sons get killed in foreign wars, an uncle vanishes in the wild, a younger brother dies in infancy, the father is imprisoned and then the daughter herself – but the author deals with pain with a stoic evenness, even tenderness, rather than the hysteria that a younger or less collected writer might have employed."
About the author
Priscilla Supnet Macansantos writes poetry, nonfiction and fiction in English, Filipino and Iluko, her native language. She has won prizes for her poetry from Home Life and Focus magazines, and was awarded for her essay “Departures” in the 1998 Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature. She was head of the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) Committee on Literary Arts from 2011 to December 2013, and was Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Baguio until April 2012. She attended Creative Writing Workshops held by the University of the Philippines and Silliman University in Dumaguete City. She has also served in the teaching panel of the Cordillera Creative Writers’ Workshop, the Western Mindanao Writers’ Workshop, and Lamiraw. She is a member of Philippine PEN, and holds a PhD in Mathematics.
I'm pleased to share my second publication in Colorado Review, a book review of Jakob Guanzon's Abundance (Graywolf Press, 2021). It was a pleasure to engage with this beautiful, devastating book, and to explore my own thoughts on capitalism and the "American Dream". Read my review here.
"Revolutionaries", an excerpt from the novel, people we trust, in about place journal's Geographies of justice issue
My seventh published novel excerpt (!!!) has been published in About Place Journal's Geographies of Justice issue! This novel chapter depicts a meeting between a young man who came of age during the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, and a former activist who once knew his rebel older brother, and it all takes place after the fall of the dictatorship in 1986. Have a read, and then check out the rest of this amazing issue!
My long short story/novella, "Inheritances", is in the latest issue of Your Impossible Voice. It's about a Manila yuppie forced to confront his memories of an abusive childhood when his father has a nervous breakdown. I wrote this way back in 2014, before we even thought that a person like Duterte could become president, and so it contains the optimism Filipinos briefly felt during the economic boom of the Aquino years. Perhaps it's a time capsule? You can read the story here and the issue where it appears here.
I also did an audio recording of me reading from the story! You can listen to that here.
UPDATE (Sept. 8, 2021): Nominated for Best of the Net, baby!
An essay I wrote during this pandemic about my journey as a tango dancer in New Zealand, intergenerational trauma, and the effects of colonialism on the body, "A Shared Stillness", appears in the Spring 2021 issue of Colorado Review, a literary journal I've admired and looked up to ever since I was an MFA student. It's been made available online, and print and digital copies of the journal can be ordered on their website. The entire issue can also be accessed via Project Muse if one has institutional library access. It was my wish, while writing this essay, to honor my paternal grandparents, Armando and Peregrina Macansantos, both tango dancers and survivors of war and trauma, as well as the city of Zamboanga, my father's hometown and the setting of much of this essay. Many thanks to Stephanie G'schwind for making my dream of appearing in Colorado Review come true. In her introduction to this issue, she writes:
In “A Shared Stillness,” Monica Macansantos considers the possibilities for connection and healing through tango, drawing on her family’s trauma and her own grief.
Read the essay here.