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  • A Necessary Beginning: An Interview
  • N.V.M. Gonzalez (bio) and Roger J. Bresnahan (bio)

N. V. M. Gonzalez was born in 1915 in Romblon and moved to Mindoro at the age of five. The son of a school supervisor and a teacher, he studied at National University in Manila, but never obtained a degree. While in Manila, Gonzalez wrote for the Philippine Graphic and edited for the Evening News Magazine and Manila Chronicle.

In 1948, he received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to Stanford and Columbia University, in New York City. After he returned to the Philippines in 1950, he began a long teaching career. In addition, he hosted the first University of the Philippines writers' workshop and was the first president of the Philippine Writers' Association.

When he returned to California in the 1960s, Gonzalez taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara, California State University at Hayward, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Gonzalez published fourteen books and received many prestigious awards, including the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature, the José Rizal Pro Patria Award, and the City of Manila Medal of Honor. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Philippines in 1987, and in 1988 he became its first international writer-in-residence. In the late nineties, he served as a regents professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Despite Gonzalez's travels, he never gave up his Filipino citizenship, and he resisted becoming part of the community of Filipino American writers. His most notable works include the novels The Winds of April, The Bamboo Dancers, and A Season of Grace; the short-story collections Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and The Bread of Salt and Other Stories; and the essay collections Work on the Mountain and The Novel of Justice: Selected Essays. He died in 1999 at age 84. The following conversation took place in Hayward, California, in September 1980.

RJB We could begin with your experience as a teacher of creative writing. You indicated to me earlier that you think the teaching of creative writing is going the wrong way. [End Page 17]

NVMG The wrong way because, in my own experience, the emphasis has been on getting the student to reach a level of competence where perhaps adequate, if not exciting, manuscripts become possible.

RJB How, then, would you go about teaching creative writing better?

NVMG I'm inclined to think that a student in a writing program should be made aware of the skills required to write, of the forms writers use, and how the student himself might adopt any of these. But his real purpose, while in the program, should be to understand how writers develop an attitude towards society, as evidenced in their works.

RJB So that would somehow deformalize writers' workshops?

NVMG It would deformalize them in the sense that it would knock down stereotyped critical exchange, which belongs to the teaching of composition and literature. It would have the instructor understand every member of the workshop in terms of the latter's attitude toward life and society and how this could be expressed in one literary form or another. The instructor creates not so much a writer as a potential for serious ex-pression through literary form. All too easily one forgets that it is one's writing that makes a writer, not one's membership in a writers' workshop. I think that creating this awareness should be the function of writers' workshops.

RJB Let's talk a little about your theory of narrative and the way you get your narrative to move.

NVMG I can explain to you what a short story is. Would you like me to?

RJB I want to get at how you, as a craftsman, move a story forward.

NVMG Well, in the first place, a story is a combination of many elements. But what it does have, when you put it down, is a subject which, by definition—and I think this is shared by many—answers the question of what the story is about. The answer to that is a word expressive of a moral idea—like love, courage, devotion, and so...