With writers like Agatha Christie, J.K. Rowling, and Danielle Steele topping the list of the world’s bestselling authors, it’s apparent that women are increasingly dominating the literary sphere. Even in the Philippines, some of the most exciting, boundary-pushing writers are women. But these novelists, essayists, poets, and even comic book authors aren’t making a name for themselves—or Philippine literature—by going down well-trodden paths. Instead, they’re carving out new niches, telling new stories, and doing so in original ways. Here are some of the country’s female writers who are changing the way literature is consumed and produced.
Julienne Davidas, who publishes under the name Hulyen, is a local comics artist, and the author of UGH, a celebrated series published by indie press, Haliya. Her wry work—written in everyday Taglish, and paired with decidedly unpolished illustrations—is not just funny and clever. There’s also a deep intelligence and social awareness behind it— discussing things like social graces, womanhood, and religion. But like any humorist, Hulyen packages it in self-deprecation and satire, making her cutting cultural insights easy to swallow. In an era where many still think that “serious” writers must create work using a lofty, monolingual register, and certainly, without relying on drawings, Hulyen gives us a glimpse of the exciting future of the Philippine literary scene.
In her first collection of poetry, Tonight We Slurp In Color, released in 2017 by Balangiga Press, Tubig turns expectations about poetry on its head. Refreshingly irreverent, the collection is peppered with obscenities and surreal sexual imagery, discussing things like third nipples and getting tattooed by one’s clitoris. And still, it’s not all smut. Established poets like Mark Anthony Cayanan laud Tubig’s work, describing it as being “powered by an imagination as generous as an orgy”—which is to say that it is exciting, titillating, and envelope-pushing in a way that Philippine literature hasn’t seen in a long time.
Available at National Bookstore and on Amazon, Brigitte Bautista’s novel, Don’t Tell My Mother is one of the Philippines’ first female-to-female love stories to be told in young adult fiction. While it is brave and moving, the novel also manages to be funny from the get-go. Sharply written, it is more than just “gay literature.” People who identify otherwise will also find a lot to relate to in this story that follows 19-year-old Sam as she confronts universal questions about love, family, growing up, and what it means to be good. Without necessarily offering neat, ribbon-tied answers, this nuanced novel establishes itself as being an important addition to the Philippine canon—not in the least, because it represents a minority that is so often overlooked in literature and the media.
Two-time Palanca Award-winning Shakira Sison writes poetry, fiction, essays, and some of the best TinyLetter updates you can subscribe to. In her work, she covers everything from grief, to Filipino and immigrant identity, to women’s rights, and even fitness (she just completed the most recent NY Marathon). A lot of it can be found on digital publications all over the web. But her first book, co-written with Ian Rosales Casocot, is Don’t Tell Anyone, is published by Anvil. This collection of LGBTQ stories unflinchingly tackles the topic of sex from both the gay and lesbian perspectives—something surprisingly groundbreaking in the Philippines. Don’t be fooled by the book’s subtitle, “Literary Smut”—there is actually a lot of wisdom to glean from this beautifully written book, regardless of the reader’s sexual identity.
The National Book Award-winning author of multiple collections including Dark Hours, Elsewhere Held and Lingered, There Is No Emergency, and more—Cruz does more than just write poetry. She is also one of the brains behind High Chair, a nonprofit small press that publishes some of the country’s most exciting poetry. Additionally, she co-runs Better Living Through Xeroxography (BLTX), a small press expo that gives self-published writers and artists an opportunity to share their work with the world. That said, Cruz’s contributions to literature in the Philippines go far beyond producing work. She also creates spaces for other artists to produce and share their work.
Art by Marian Hukom
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