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

Community in conversation: Conchitina Cruz on the 26th Ateneo Heights Writers Workshop

Natania Shay Du | Jul 6, 2021

“Communities come in many forms and one is this form—the workshop setting—where you’re able to work with peers and older writers, and to be in conversation with them about your work,” shared Conchitina Cruz, one of the panelists for the 26th Ateneo HEIGHTS Writers Workshop (AHWW), in an interview with HEIGHTS regarding this year’s workshop and its migration to the online space. 

However, how does this long held practice continue during a pandemic that has effectively isolated people, lessening its crucial sense of community? As the 26th AHWW set out to face this very conundrum head on by holding its activities online, Cruz remarked that the resulting smooth and productive sessions of the workshop could be owed to effective decisions made regarding the transition of the workshop from the traditional set-up to a remote one.

“Of course I really do miss having [the workshop] face-to-face,” she stated. “I’ve been a panelist for AHWW for a few years now and the getting together part, physically, is something I always look forward to. But I do think that the organizers and the fellows did a great job of helping us transition.”

One distinguishing feature of this year’s workshop was the move to split the 14 fellows and 9 panelists into morning and afternoon sessions across the three-day event, held from February 25 to 28, 2021. Cruz recognized that there would be losses in the migration to the online set-up, but that the decision to divide the group into two was practical in light of the remote medium, creating a more intimate environment for participants.

“[It was also a] very smart consideration of the exhaustion that comes with screen time, since we’re having to be mediated by screens when we discuss. I liked that it was small, more manageable; we got to know each other better given the constraints of doing it online. I think the discussions were helped by that more intimate—meaning smaller—group arrangement.”

As with any new endeavor, however, a new medium for the workshop opened the possibility for issues that may not have been as concerning in a traditional, face-to-face set-up. One such issue was the recording of the workshop proper, which brought up concerns regarding the nature of the individual material being discussed in the sessions and what it meant for the participants’ privacy and safety. “Part of our migration is new things about recording, and being able to make those finer distinctions when it comes to what can and cannot be recorded,” Cruz said.

The space for leisure within the workshop setting itself could not be entirely replicated, either, according to Cruz. She explained that holding a workshop online is very focused on getting the work done because of the set-up’s dependence on technology as a medium for interaction. With the traditional, face-to-face workshops, however, that wasn’t the case. Beyond the discussions, workshops are about the “in between” moments that allowed the sense of leisure Cruz was referring to.

“I think that gesture of going away from campus or the house and being together in one space, and spending time outside the actual sessions [is what I miss]...Eating together, pa-kape, merienda, chika-chika; that’s part of [the workshop], but we can’t fully replicate that in this set-up.”

Even if holding the AHWW online necessitated certain tradeoffs, Cruz could still see what made her look forward to every workshop—whether it be online or onsite. “I’ve been a teacher for a few decades, but still, to me, [meeting the fellows] is the best part. I struggle with remote learning because it takes a lot more effort to get to know each other. But I always look forward to meeting the fellows, to reading the work.”

As a panelist who was assigned two fellows, a departure from the usual practice the previous iterations of AHWW had maintained, Cruz also discussed her experience mentoring fellows in the 26nd AHWW and the workshop setting in general, saying that she enjoyed working with the fellows assigned to her.

“[My fellows were] really excellent writers, and I think that the work that they both submitted showed how strong they already were as writers...The drafts already have their identities and it’s only a matter of trying to realize them further. It’s always exciting to get work that’s there. I’m just very happy to see and be part of that process, [even if these writers] will ultimately complete [their works] on their own.”

In fact, Cruz mentioned that one of the parts of this year’s workshop that she liked best was the session in which she was able to speak to her mentees individually. “It was good to talk to them and engage with the work more personally,” she commented.

Cruz, inviting those interested in the AHWW to join its future iterations, also said: “It’s important for writers to have a community where they can develop their writing in...It’s healthy to hear thoughts outside of your own, because a lot of writing also happens in your head, and you talk to yourself a lot. So, occasions like this allow you to step out of your own mind and hear how others are perceiving your work...I think it’s a gift to have not just readers, but attentive readers, who can really engage you directly about your work. The HEIGHTS workshop is one setting for that.”

Written by

Natania Shay Du

Heights Online Staffer, 2020-2021

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Justin Dhaniel Tan

Design Staffer, 2020-2021

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Tricia Alcantara

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Julia Carpio

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Anya Nellas

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