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Romancing words with Greg Mercado

/ 09:57 AM December 12, 2013

Before World War II, only two Cebuano writers in English were nationally regonized: Estrella Alfon and Gregorio Mercado. The third one, who was born in Romblon but lived the rest of his life in Cebu, was Cornelio Faigao.

A book about Alfon and her works was put out by the equally famous writer Lina Espina-Moore in 1994. And early this year another recognized writer, Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu, finally showed this generation the sharp wit and wisdom of Faigao in the book titled after his catchy succinct column “Canto Voice” that appeared in The Pioneer Press in the 1950s.

The year will not end without the last of the three finally given the recognition he deserves. Next Wednesday, another equally superb writer, Dr. Erlinda Alburo, will launch her biography of Greg entitled, “Romancing With Words: The Life and Works of Greg M. Mercado (1919-1967).” Like Yu’s literary work on Faigao, Alburo’s take on Greg is published by the University of San Carlos (USC) Press.

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“It was a wonder no one had paid any attention to him,” thus writes Linda Alburo, former director of the USC Cebuano Studies Center, in her preface of the book. “Estrella Alfon started writing in Cebuano and ended in English. The opposite happened to Greg.” And, while Estrella moved to Manila and stayed there permanently, Greg began and ended his brief life (he died at the tender age of 47) in Cebu, much like his literary idol and newspaper publishing partner, Faigao, who also died young in Cebu.

I have always liked the way Linda Alburo writes, not because she was my teacher in literature in college, but because every time I read her works, it is as if she is right in front of me talking. This is the same feeling I had when reading her latest book, as she traced Greg’s brief but celebrated life, from his literary victories as a short story writer published in the Philippines Free Press and other national news magazines to his life as a guerrilla detainee-turned-warrior against the Japanese in war-torn Cebu to his career as spokesman of post-war Mayor Raffiñan down to his other works in radio and film up to the last day of his life.

In 170 pages, Alburo has finally removed Greg from the obscurity of the past and convincingly presents her thesis why he is indeed one of only three great writers in English of national prominence that Cebu produced. But beyond Greg’s persona, Alburo also provides the reader with a picture of Cebu in the pre-war and early post-war years that properly contextualizes Greg’s life and fame, one that he did not claim for himself incidentally, but was accorded to him as can be gleaned in the favorable comments of non-Cebuano readers of his works published from time to time in Manila’s prominent weekly newsmagazines as well as in the euologies delivered and obituaries published during his untimely passing.

And if the reader is not convinced in the reading of Greg’s life, the book provides all the necessary evidence of Greg’s literary prowess through the reprinting of articles and short stories that Alburo has carefully selected to form a large part of the book.

“Romancing With Words” will be launched on December 18 at 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ayala Activity Center. The discounted launching price of the book is P300 (the book is regularly priced at P350). Let me thank Mayen Angbetic-Tan, literary editor of The Freeman, for pulling all stops to make this launching a success.

See you all there!

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