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Nick Joaquin

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Philippine novelist, poet, playwright, and essayist writing in English, the National Artist for Literature. Joaquin is widely considered the best postwar author in his country. He has written largely about the Spanish colonial period and the diverse heritage of the Filipino people. Often he deals with the coexistence of 'primitive' and 'civilized' dimensions inside the human psyche. In his short story 'The Summer Solstice,' set in the 1850s, Joaquin portrayed the collision between instincts and refined culture. Doсa Lupeng first rejects ancient beliefs, but under the spell of the moon, she becomes possessed by the spirit of the Tadtarin cult - she does not want to be loved and respected anymore but adored as the embodiment of the matriarchal powers.

"He lifted his dripping face and touched his bruised lips to her toes; lifted his hands and grasped the white foot and kissed it savagely - kissed the step, the sole, the frail ankle - while she bit her lips and clutched in pain at the windowsill, her body distended and wracked by horrible shivers, her head flung back and her loose hair streaming out of the window - streaming fluid and black in the white night where the huge moon glowed like a sun and the dry air flamed into lightning and the pure heat burned with the immense intense fever of noon." (from 'The Summer Solstice' in Tropical Gothic, 1972)

Nick Joaquin was born in Paco on Calle Herran, as the the son of Leocadio Y. Joaquin, a lawyer and a colonel of the Philippine Revolution, and Salome Marquez, a schoolteacher. After three years of secondary education at the Mapa High School, Joaquin dropped out of school to work on Manila's waterfront and in odd jobs. On his spare time he read widely at the National Library and on his father's library. English had became the official medium of instruction in 1898 after the Spanish-American war. Especially through the work of short story writers English became the most developed literary genre and virtually all Spanish literature ceased.

Starting as a proofreader at the Philippines Free Press, Joaquin rose to contributing editor and essayist under the pen name 'Quijano de Manila' (Manila Old Timer). After World War II Joaquin worked as a journalist, gaining fame as a reporter for the Free Press. In 1970 he left the Philippines Free Press and went on to edit Asia-Philippine Leader. During the reign of Ferdinand Marcos, who had won presidency in 1965, corruption started to fuel opposition to his administration. When martial law was declared in 1972 Joaquin was subsequently suspended. He then became the editor of the Philippine Graphic magazine and publisher of the Women's Weekly.

Joaquin started to write short stories, poems, and essays in 1934. One year later his first work appeared in the Tribune in 1935. In 1947 his essay on the defeat of a Dutch fleet by the Spaniards off the Philippines in 1646 earned him a scholarship to study in Hong Kong at the Albert College, founded by the Dominicans. Joaquin's studies for priesthood explains part the Christian setting of his stories and constant attention to the practices and superstitions of his characters. However, he left the seminary in 1950, finding it impossible for him to adjust to rigid rules. Prose and Poems (1952) was followed by the Barangay Theatre Guild's production of his play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino. The title refers to James Joyce's famous book, not without ironic tone. A Portrait is considered the most important Filipino play in English. In it Joaquin focused on a family conflict, in which old cultural models are reconciled with modern values. The descendants of the declining Don Lorenzo refuse to sell the masterpiece which he has painted for them. With Stevan Javellana, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Celso Al. Carunungan, and Kerima Polotan Tuvera he influenced the development of the Philippine novel and short story. He writing also build a bridge from modern literature to the religious themes of Spanish heritage and primitive beliefs. When the young Guido in 'The Summer Solstice' had returned from Europe to his home, he tells Doсa Lupeng: "Ah, I also learned to open my eyes over there - to see the holiness and the mystery of what is vulgar."

The prize-novel The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961) examined the pressures of the past upon the present. Monson, the ex-revolutionary, hides in Hong Kong, afraid to face the trials of postwar independence. Again Joaquin dealt with the tensions between illusion and reality. The novel won the first Harry Stonehill Award, an yearly grant. The Aquinos of Tarlac (1983) was a biography of the assassinated presidential candidate Benigno Aquino. He led the opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos and was shot dead in the airport when he returned from exile. Three years after his death his widow Corazon Aquino


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