Happy Endings by Marivi Soliven Blanco
Tita Tess gave me all of four days to grieve her death before thrusting me back into the party of life. The Monday after she passed away, my first email of the day began with Congratulations.
It was from the deputy director of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the oldest competition in the Philippines, my country’s version of the Pulitzer Prize. In the Service of Secrets had just won the Grand Prize in the novel category. The award would be presented at the Rigodon Ballroom of the Manila Peninsula, I was urged to receive it in person. The prize money just barely covered plane fare home and within a day I had booked a flight. That may have seemed frivolous, but how could I resist an invitation to the ball?
I arrived in Manila the day before the awards ceremony. Thursday night, my mom and I strolled across the marbled hotel lobby as a stringed quartet played Vivaldi from a columned balcony stage. A lady swathed in black silk handed me a red satin ribbon with Winner printed in gold. Unfortunately our table was clear across the crowded ballroom from the only two other writers we knew. That made dinner as awkward as attending a second cousin’s wedding: everyone was there to celebrate, just not with each other.
Jet lag hit early on, while a Famous Author philosophized about the State of Philippine literature, his high-pitched voice swaddling my brain like codeine. I sat up and resolved to be more attentive. Patience would have been the more useful virtue. As the highlight of the ceremony, the novel category came last. These annual awards acknowledge the best work from every literary genre in four Philippine languages but because of its length, the novel is honored only once every three years. With first, second and third places in each category that meant 56 awards were to be handed out before mine.
Luckily there was an open bar.
Mama and I would periodically check the program to see how far we’d gone: Good God, we’ve just passed the Short Story in Hiligaynon — then we’d wave at the nearest waiter like New Yorkers hailing cabs on a rainy night: Please, my good man, another glass of wine?
Two and a half hours later my moment arrived. Walked on stage, shook hands with various Important People, let the chairman of the Judges for the Novel hang a CD-sized bronze medal from my neck, tried not to squint as a half-dozen press photographers took our picture. It was over in a minute.
Offstage, several journalists sidled up with questions, which all sounded remarkably alike: What is your novel about? How do you feel about winning the Palanca? And the dreaded What can you say about the state of Philippine Literature?
After two days in transit, five hours of sleep and four glasses of merlot, I could barely manage a quotable quote, let alone a snappy sound bite. Winning a Palanca was fabulous, but accepting the actual award? That was downright exhausting.
After authoring ten books for children, Marivi Soliven Blanco moved on to writing four more books for an adult audience including Suddenly Stateside, a collection of essays on the Filipino diaspora, and Spooky Mo, a collection of feminist horror stories. Her essays and short fiction have been widely anthologized in Philippine textbooks. While her day job as a telephonic interpreter offers constant inspiration for new stories, writing continues to be her primary vocation.