An anthology of poems by Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan Department of English Language and Literature Faculty Member Dr. Arlene J. Yandug has been nominated as a finalist in two prestigious national book awards.

“Coming Home to the Island: poems” has been selected as one of five finalists in both the Best Book of Poetry in English category by the 41st National Book Award, and the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing’s Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award.

Her first poetry collection, Coming Home to the Island was previously awarded a publication grant from the National Book Development Board (NBDB) and was published by the XU Press.

Coming Home to the Island-Poems by Dr. Arlene J. Yandug

 Coming Home To The Island: Poems recollects experiences of the self in connection to place. In fifty poems, Yandug weaves strands of past and present, space and time, as she shows how the self is grasped in the larger narrative of Mindanao, her home island.

Speculating not just on personal history, but also on the island’s distant past, Yandug magnifies for the reader details that re-present the invisible, remote layers of the self. In this meaning-making process of remembering, the poet is re-contextualizing conversations, interpolating facts, rearranging events, turning them into meaningful pieces that hopefully bring readers to a sense of home.

Yandug’s poem Going Back to Island  was a third prize winner of Void’s Poetry Contest run by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal for unpublished poems in the theme of “Void”. Here’s what Singaporean writer and editor Daryl Qilin Yam had to say in his review, Void Poetry Contest Winners: Why We Chose These Poems :

“I love a good poetic sequence, and the powerful combination of a mythic voice and fabled setting further compels me to read to the very end, taking in all of the sights and sounds along the way. Like Edmunds’s winning piece, this poem succeeds largely because of the sheer onslaught of wonderfully composed lines, and the magical quality of it all is scarily consistent.”

“Most delightful, however, is whenever Yandug uses food imagery to paint her beloved world, be it the emotional power of onions, the smell of toasted coconuts, the squeezing of lime over the sky or even the salty brine of the waves. You feel it all on the back of your tongue.”

41st National Book Award

The 41st National Book Award’s Best Book of Poetry in English is a significant literary award in the Philippines, specifically aimed at recognizing and celebrating outstanding poetry written in the English language.  It is organized by the National Book Development Board (NBDB) and the Manila Critics Circle, and it is one of the most prestigious accolades for poets and writers in the country.

The award celebrates poets whose poetry collections have been instrumental in the field of literature. The finalists as well as the winners in this award often cover the broad spectrum of modern Filipino English poetry, with its many themes, styles and voices.

The 41st National Book Awards coincides with the two-year preparation of the Philippines as it makes history as the second Southeast Asian country to be chosen as Guest of Honor in 2025 at the world’s biggest book fair, the Frankfurter Buchmesse.

For this cycle of the National Book Awards, a total of 235 titles were submitted across 34 categories consisting of 7 languages: English, Filipino, Binisaya, Bikol, Hiligaynon, Tausug, and Waray. Following the awarding of winners during the 40th cycle in May 2023, the 41st iteration of the awards is slated to take place in February 2024. You may check out the Official List of the Finalists of the 41st National Book Awards here.

Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award

The Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award is an annual award established in 2001 by the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing through the initiative of the Madrigal-Gonzalez family.

Besides Yandug’s “Coming Home to the Island (Poetry), four other finalists have been nominated for the 23rd Madrigal González Best First Book Award. Also nominated for the “Best First Book in English 2021-2022,” are Wilfredo Liangco for “Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer” (Creative Nonfiction); King Llanza for “All My Distances Point to Home” (Poetry); John Bengan for “Armor: Stories” (Fiction); and  J. Philip Ignacio for “Alandal” (Graphic Novel).

Awarding will be held on November 24, 2023 along with the UP Writers’ Night, at the Gimenez Gallery, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

The MGBFBA, established in February 2001 and administered since then by the UP-ICW, is the only award-winning body in the Philippines recognizing first books by new authors published within the last two years. It is granted by the Madrigal and Gonzalez families, through Atty. Gizela Gonzalez Montinola, writer and granddaughter of Bienvenido Gonzalez, former UP President, and daughter of Gonzalo Gonzalez, former member of the UP Board of Regents.

According to UP-ICW director Vim Nadera, the MGBFBA encourages beginning writers to persevere in writing and publishing, and it also encourages publishers to take risk with new authors.

The award covers all genres of creative writing and nominations may come from publishing houses, university presses, creative writing centers, writers’ organizations, and other literary enthusiasts. It is given on alternate years to writers in English and writers in Filipino.

The Poetess

Arlene J. Yandug teaches literature and writing at Xavier Ateneo. She previously worked as editor of Kinaadman under the tutelage of its founding editor, the late Fr. Miguel Bernad SJ.  A fellow in national writing workshops, she earned her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

A poet writing in English and Cebuano, her poems have appeared in Bisaya Magasin, in Mindanao Harvest 4Under the StormKitaabRed River ReviewFuture LovecraftThe Philippine Free PressPhilippine GraphicKinaadman, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal where her poem about Camiguin won a prize.

Besides writing, her interests include Mindanao-orientated literature, translation, the creative process, and mobilities—topics of interest she explored in papers, some of which were presented in international conferences in Manila, Indonesia and Korea.

In 2021, she spearheaded a CHED-funded literary anthology, Tinubdan, which she co-edited with two colleagues. In this anthology, she proposes the ‘region’ as a paradigm in viewing emerging voices from the northern Mindanao area. She has also served as founding editor of Carayan, a journal of Xavier’s Department of English Language and Literature. (RMB)


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