It is with deep sadness and regret that the Philippine Center of International PEN announces the passing away of its Chair Emeritus, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera. “Bien” passed away at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, said his daughter, Tala Lumbera.
Bienvenido L. Lumbera (1932-2021)
Bienvenido L. Lumbera, critic, poet, dramatist, scholar, author, and teacher, was born on April 11, 1932 in Lipa City, Batangas. He received his basic education in Batangas and took up Litt.B. Journalism at the old Faculty of Philosophy and Letters (Philets) of the University of Santo Tomas. While in UST, he became a staffer and later literary editor of the Varsitarian. After finishing cum laude in 1954, he got a Fulbright Fellowship and went to the Indiana University where he obtained his M.A. (1960) and Ph.D. (1967) in Comparative Literature. He taught at the Ateneo de Manila University and went underground when Martial Law was declared in 1972. He was arrested in 1974 and was detained for almost a year
Released, he taught shortly at the Department of Filipino of the University of the Philippines and became editor in 1978 of the Diliman Review. In 1976 he became a founding member of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the society of film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian for excellence in Philippine filmmaking.
In 1986, his doctoral dissertation, chapters of which had been published in an academic journal starting in the late 1960’s, was published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press as a book, “Tagalog Poetry, 1570-1898: Its Influences and Development.” The seminal and important study, and his later essays on the vernacular tradition and Philippine popular culture collected in “Revaluation” (1984) and “Revaluation 1997” (UST Publishing House), and the the textbook he wrote with his spouse, Cynthia Nograles Lumbera, “Philippine Literature History and Anthology” (1986; National Bookstore), helped consolidate the by now robust field of Philippine Studies.
Lumbera himself was an award-winning poet. His key poetry in Filipino was collected in “Likhang Dila, Likhang Diwa,” published by Anvil Publishing in 1993. His later poetry was published in the 2002 collection, “Balaybay, Mga Tulang Lunot at Manibalang.” He was also a dramatist and wrote the memorable libretto for the rock opera ballets “Tales of the Manuvu” (1976) and “Rama, Hari” (1980). He wrote sarsuwela pieces such as “Ang Palabas Bukas” (1978), “Nasa Puso ang Amerika” (1984), a stage adaptation of Carlos Bulosan’s celebrated autobiographical fiction “America is in the Heart,” “Bayani” (1985), and “Hibik at Himagsik nina Victoria Lactaw” (2002).
In 1993, Lumbera received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts for “asserting the central place of the vernacular tradition in framing a national identity for modern Filipinos.”
In 2006, Lumbera was inducted to the Order of the National Artists by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In 2019, he received the Southeast Asian WRITE Award from the Kingdom of Thailand.
Up to the very end, for better or for worse, Lumbera upheld nationalist literature and culture as a bulwark against imperialism and globalization. In 2010, delivering the opening remarks of the PEN national conference in Cebu City, he said:
“… we aim to uphold the power of literature’s imaginative language to counter the fiction of progress that globalization promises. We must learn to create and develop our own native borders to protect our people against subliminal subversion that our TV sets, our computers and our movie screens work into the national psyche. Creative writers are our irrepressible allies in this endeavour.”