Heights Ateneo — The Official Literary and Artistic Publication and Organization of the Ateneo de Manila University

A Brand New Frontier: 26th AHWW Detours Towards the Unorthodox

Hazel Lam, Maiko Aira Ng | Mar 24, 2021

The Ateneo HEIGHTS Writers Workshop (AHWW) took place in a time shrouded with uncertainty, where it is all the more essential to continue telling stories about our reality. Even in current circumstances, the workshop continued its push for discourse between budding writers and established professionals to continue their creative practices, hone their craft, and expand their vision and perspective for the stories they tell.

The 26th iteration of AHWW took place last February 25 and 27 to 28, 2021, and utilized various digital platforms for their sessions. Ten fellows were handpicked to showcase their written pieces and have them improved through critique sessions with their paired mentor, panel discussions with their co-fellows, and a lecture series from distinguished professionals in their respective fields. The workshop aimed to emphasize the intentions of creating narratives, celebrating the conscious practice of writing to explore the unknown, and pushing the boundaries of written pieces about the times in which we live in.

The student writers graduated from the three-day workshop program alongside their respective  mentors with the support of the AHWW organizing team. Through panel discussions and mentorships, the young writers were provided a space to venture into unknown territories, refine as well as further experiment with their craft. There will be a compilation of all their works to be shared to the community through a culminating website to be released in a few months’ time, alongside the works from the Ateneo HEIGHTS Artists Workshop (AHAW).

Debating the Conventional

The program proceeded with each of the fellows’ written pieces as the center of discussion during individual critique sessions led by their paired mentor. Their work was then open to comments and feedback from their co-fellows and mentors throughout the workshop.

The mentors worked to address the omnipresent anxieties that plague writers—tackling deliberate narrative-making and elaborating on the intricate nuances that go into the writing process. Starting off the discussion, Dr. Edgar Samar, a Palanca Award-winning writer and instructor for the Ateneo de Manila Filipino Department, emphasized the importance of revision as an integral part of the process. To him, the process of revising one’s work clarifies the topics or possible issues being tackled in the text, as well as implores the author to revisit the values at the heart of their pieces.

Famed playwright Rody Vera highlighted the process of decision-making and importance of the intention behind the work, which speaks volumes about the potential of the narrative. To him, the elements of the story have to be questioned again and again, with the author asking to whom, when, and why this story is being told. Furthermore, Vera weighed in by stating that a work’s premise, characters, and direction, have to be justified and prove itself as essential in its narrative and reasoning.

Aside from the nuances that go into the writing process, the panelists touched upon the relevance of creating pieces that are conscious and reflective of our lived experiences. This new era of creative practice is moving towards subversion as a more common tool in literature that challenges preconceived notions from the audiences. Writer extraordinaire and retired professor, Dr. Butch Dalisay, commented on anchoring narratives in constructing a “real situation in the present which serves as a take-off point”. In the realm of non-fiction, it is all the more important for him that we ask ourselves, “Why this and why now?” Moreover, in the turbulent political climate of the Philippines, Dalisay stated the need for more fiction that humanizes the horrific and nefarious. By doing so, the stories become more familiar and more sinister, revealing to readers a society that has become more corrupt and detestable over the years. To the panelists, adapting and considering the ever-changing context of our everyday realities comes with the act of writing. This means that modern sensibility and subversion have to have a space in the stories that we tell. 

Beyond the elements of the practice, the panelists discussed the effort that goes into becoming effective storytellers and what this entails from them. The art of forming pieces that speak for themselves means that the reader lets all these portrayals flow naturally into realizations, allowing the audience come to the conclusions instead of overwhelming them. The intensity of sentiments or emotions in a piece are expressed in vain if it lacks any awareness and response to the readers’ expectations. With this, Martin Villanueva, the chair for the Department of Fine Arts in Ateneo de Manila University, pointed out that a story dialogue should not be for the sake of the story nor to explain the character’s motives; these should speak for themselves instead of existing to tell the reader what to focus on thematically.

Reimagining Reality 

In-between the panel discussion and critique sessions, there were three pre-recorded lectures posted on the Heights Ateneo Official Facebook page that discussed topics regarding writing in today’s context.

Cat Aquino, a writer and a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, tackled the essence of writing and reading trauma as part of literature and society. She says that one must remember that the traumatic experience is not a monolith, and should therefore not be read and written as such. Meanwhile, Glenn Diaz, the author of “The Quiet Ones”, discussed the role of writing in pondering man’s position in society and his attitude towards and because of isolation. At the heart of writing must be the question of what it means to be a writer at a specific time and place. Lastly, Daryll Delgado, a fictionist and the author of “After the Body Displaces Water”, spoke about story and narrative as portals. Shee discussed that the face of the unknown, while terrifying because of its very nature, prompts reimaginings, both deliberate and thoughtful, of what is known.

The recordings of all three lectures were posted on the Facebook page of Heights Ateneo. Following these were discussion sessions for the Ateneo community to take part in for any insights and comments they had for the speakers. The details on the fourth lecture, discussing publishing, will be announced soon.

Confronting Uncertainty Moving Forward

Stories serve as a different lens to view the narratives and experiences around people. Authors may come to doubt whether or not their works significantly contribute to change in the long run. There is always the fear that these pieces may be boxed into an echochamber or the despair that the story as a portal leads to nowhere. It is, however, for this very fact that we find all the more reason to reimagine and be deliberate with the narratives we discuss within our circles or share on our platforms. As writers, then, it is part and parcel of our responsibility to create pieces that are reflective of society and at the same time reimagine the realities we live in. 

Written by

Hazel Lam

Heights Online Staffer, 2020-2021

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Maiko Aira Ng

Heights Online Staffer, 2020-2021

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Art by

Heights Design

Staff, 2020-2021

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