I remember someone who asked me what short stories I would recommend for her to read given that, in her words, the short story is not as popular as the other genres. I was at the time ready to steel myself up to defend the literary form I love and enjoy so much. Of course, my argument would have been out of context. Perhaps she was talking from experience or from something she had read or from a global perspective. Instead of sparking a debate, I gave the names of writers whose works I found very memorable, like Filipino writer Estrella Alfon who was an embodiment of a talent that was too advanced for the period she lived in and like 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature winner and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, because I thought, everyone loves Munro’s works, right? (I know I do.)
I cannot remember when I started reading short stories. It just happened. I probably picked up a book and read a short story, perhaps a work by American short story writer O. Henry. Without profound self-awareness, I then turned to other books that have short stories in them and have been reading this literary form since. What I can recall clearly is the birth and growth of my excitement over Philippine literature maybe around six years ago. When I was still enrolled in a couple of courses in a postgraduate degree I did not finish, I scoured the main library during a sleepy lunch break and discovered masterpieces by Alejandro Roces, Francisco Arellana, Paz Latorena, Aida Rivera-Ford, Paz Marquez Benitez, Alfon, and more in the Filipiniana section. I returned to this section almost every Saturday for the remainder of the semester.
I continue to read Philippine literature, especially short stories in English, to this day. Along the way, I discovered the works of Gilda Cordero-Fernando and Gregorio Brillantes, among others. All their stories are reflective of the Filipino life and indicative of the common Filipino traits: optimistic and resilient in the face of adversity, family-oriented, religious, independent, and hospitable. When I read their works, I am always awestruck by the writers’ fluid mastery in English writing. Literary critic Gémino Abad described this as Filipinos’ colonization of the English language to which we were exposed during the brief British invasion of the Philippines and which has become an integral part of the education system enforced under the American rule.