N.V.M Gonzalez, an important icon among the Filipino literary community, feels like a fitting way to wrap up Filipino American History Month.
Born in the Philippines in 1915 in the province of Oriental Mindoro, Gonzalez expressed passion for music at a young age. He learned to play the violin and made his own guitars by hand. For college, he attended National University at Manila, Philippines, but did not finish his degree. During his time there, he wrote for the Philippine Graphic and later edited for both Evening News Magazine and Manila Chronicle.
Gonzalez published his first essay in the Philippine Graphic and his first poem was published in 1934. These early publications started Gonzalez’s literary career. He went on the found The Diliman Review and worked as a member on the Board of Advisers of Likhaan: the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center and president of the Philippine Writers’ Association.
His lack of college degree didn’t stop him from pursuing teaching, and he received teaching positions at multiple universities in the Philippines, including the University of the Philippines (U.P) and the Philippine Women’s University. In fact, Gonzalez was one of only two faculty members at U.P. to teach without holding a college degree. Since then, he’s taught at numerous universities in California.
During his writing career, Gonzalez wrote five novels, eight short fictions and multiple essays, with his work translated into languages like English, Chinese, German, Russian, and Indonesian. His first novel, The Winds of April, was published in 1941 and won honorable mention for the Commonwealth Literary Awards. Unfortunately, most of the copies were destroyed when the Japanese occupied the Philippines during the war. An article in LA Times explains that “soldiers…used copies of the book as fuel for cooking and making tea.” Recently, the University of the Philippines Press republished copies of this lost book.
Gonzalez has received numerous awards including the City of Manila Medal of Honor in 1971, the Cultural Center of the Philippines award in 1990, and the role of Regents professor at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1988-9.
Gonzalez passed away in 1999 at the age of 84, leaving behind his wife, four children, and five grandchildren. In 2016, Gonzalez’s son, Dr. Michael Gonzalez, led an N.V.M. Gonzalez Workshop in Oriental Mindoro. This workshop was in honor of the 2015 centenary of Gonzalez’s birth and was held in the province of Gonzalez’s childhood. As an article in The Philippine Star explains, this workshop brought together writers, many Filipino-Americans who visited for the workshop. During the writers’ time together, “the mixed composition of the group and the diversity of the participants’ backgrounds led to some very interesting discussions dealing with identity, race, language, and representation.” This workshop, and the redistribution of his destroyed novel, work as ways to keep his memory alive and continue to share the impact N.V.M. Gonzalez had for Filipino and Filipino American literature.