National Artist Edith L. Tiempo Goes HomeAugust 20, 2009 by Sherma E. Benosa filed under Essays, Featured | 11,048 views
From Dumaguete, the trip to Nueva Vizcaya is long and tiring, especially for a 90-year-old, as it involves a plane ride to Manila and a seven-hour travel by land. But when it was suggested to National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo (or Mom Edith to her literary sons and daughters) to make that trip, she was so excited and would not be dissuaded over concerns about her health. Not even the bad weather or the landslide the night before her scheduled travel could stop her from making that arduous journey. For her, the trip was important. She was going home.
Mom Edith: Her Journeys
Long before Mom Edith was named National Artist for Literature in 1999, hers was already a prominent name in Philippine literature. She has penned some of the finest Philippine literary pieces: the novels A Blade of Fern (1978), His Native Coast (1979) One, Tilting Leaves, The Alien Corn (1992), The Builder (2004, and The Jumong (2006); and several collections of short stories and poems, among them: Abide, Joshua, and Other Stories (1964), The Tracks of Babylon and Other Poems (1966), The Charmer’s Box and Other Poet (1993), Beyond Extensions, and Marginal Annotations and Other Poems. Among her most anthologized works are The Return (poem), Bonsai (poem), and The Dam (short story).
A proud Gaddang, Mom Edith was born on April 22, 1919, in San Nicolas, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. She moved to Manila in her early teens to start high school at the Arellano University, but she eventually decided to go home and finish her secondary education in Nueva Vizcaya High School (now Nueva Vizcaya General Comprehensive High School). After her graduation, she again moved to Manila to do her pre-law at the University of the Philippines. It was this move that eventually led her to leave her hometown for good — at least physically — to undertake many more journeys, both literally and figuratively.
While in UP, Mom Edith corresponded with a writer and literary critic from Leyte named Edilberto K. Tiempo, whom she eventually married. After their marriage, they moved to Dumaguete, and made the city their new home. It was here that Mom Edith gave birth to their children, Rowena and Maldon.
Mom Edith’s educational advancement continued even after their move to Dumaguete. She earned her BA degree in Education, major in English (magna cum laude) from the city’s oldest university in 1947. Then she and her husband went to the United States, where she obtained her MA degree from the State University of Iowa, then her doctorate degree in English from the University of Denver in Colorado. She taught at Wartburg College in Iowa (1964-1965), Western Michigan University (1965-1966), and Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist College (1978-1979).
After years of studying and teaching in foreign lands, the couple went home to Dumaguete and had another child: the Dumaguete National Writers’ Workshop, the longest-running literary workshop in Asia, and the workshop through which they gave birth to and nurtured hundreds of literary pens. With the birth of the workshop, Mom Edith ceased being Mom to just two kids, as she has became ‘Mom’ to hundreds of writers, one of whom, Vim Nadera, would become instrumental in her return home.
The Call of Home
Nueva Vizcaya would like to claim back its long-lost daughter, Nadera supposed. And he was right. But the desire to come together again was not one-sided. Mom Edith also felt strongly about re-tracing her roots. For though she has been to far places, and she has made another place her new home, Nueva Vizcaya never ceased being the home she grew up in.
Mom Edith shared that it’s been a long time since she left Nueva Vizcaya. “Let me see… about 75 years ago?,” she tried to recall. “I was in my teens when I left!” she exclaimed.
Then she started reminiscing her childhood in Bayombong. “I love those years and I like to remember those years. I am very fortunate to feel that way. I am fortunate because heaven has been good to me, because I look back and I enjoy remembering my years in Bayombong.”
According to her son, Maldon, it’s been decades since Mom Edith came home for a visit. The last time, he said, was in 1966. “We were coming home to Dumaguete from the United States. When we were in Manila, she insisted that we would come to Bayombong first. And so we came. That makes it my second time now in the province, having come here many years ago. But so many things have changed since then it might as well be my first time,” he said.
Mom Edith’s homecoming was filled with activities befitting a National Artist. On August 9, she personally attended the launch of the exhibit about her and her works at the Peoples’ Museum and Library, also in Bayombong; and on August 10, her bust, a banded marble with gold finish created by poet-sculptor Raul Funilas of the University of the Philippines, was unveiled.
This was followed by a series of lectures on Mom Edith’s works. Ateneo de Manila Associate Professor Oscar Campomanes lectured on the new criticism in the Philippines which the Tiempos modified and brought to the country from the United States, followed by UST Assistant Professor Ralph Semino Galan who lectured on some of the love poems of Mom Edith, then by UST Associate Professor Ferdinand Lopez who looked into the Bakla as a suppressed sexuality in Mom Edith’s pink fictions: Of Chambers and The Dam. UST Assistant Professor John Jack Wigley looked at the mapping of feminine spatiality in Mom Edith’s short story The Corral, followed by UST Assistant Professor Joselito Zulueta who shared his reading of one of Mom Edith’s novels, A Blade of Fern.
The lecture-series was capped by a lecture by Mom Edith herself, where she discussed the four ways of enhancing poetic content. Mom Edith shared her contention that today’s poets are more concerned with form, when they should be more concerned with the content or substance of the poem. She shared four ways of enhancing a poem: through reverberation, use of wit and sharp humor, use of learned and scholarly esoteric materials, and adoption of unusual and startling concept and idea.
Following the lecture series were some ceremonies which included the reading of the resolution conferring on Mom Edith the Gaddang name Casta, which means ‘powerful’ and ‘beautiful’; and of the resolution declaring April 22, her birthday, as a municipal holiday.
In her speech, Dr. Gilo-Abon said that the activities were not just a celebration of arts and culture nor of Mom Edith being a Novo Vizcayano, but more importantly, of the fact that she belongs to one of the indigenous groups in the province—the Gaddang. She told the audience, “This is about loving. This is about family. This is about togetherness. This is about coming home.”
First published in the August 14 issue of Manila Times with the title, Edith Lopez Tiempo Goes Home.