National Artist for Literature
Gawad CCP para sa Sining for cultural research, 1991
CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts, 1999
April 11, 1932 – September 28, 2021
Bienvenido L. Lumbera, also known as Bien Lumbera, was a National Artist for Literature. He was a poet, playwright, essayist, and critic.
He was born in Lipa City, Batangas to Timoteo and Carmen Lumbera. He was orphaned at a young age; his father died when Bien was a baby, and his mother died of cancer about five years later. Bien and his sister were raised by Eusebia Teru, their paternal grandmother, who also passed on, and Bien then stayed with his godparents Enrique and Amanda Lumbera, who sent him to college.
He received his early education in his hometown and earned his bachelor of literature in journalism from the University of Santo Tomas, 1954, cum laude; and his master’s degree, 1960, and doctorate, 1967, in comparative literature at Indiana University, United States.
Lumbera was a Fulbright Asian scholar in residence at the Universities of Hawaii and Michigan; visiting Southeast Asian scholar at the Center for East Asia Cultural Studies in Tokyo; and visiting professor at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies, where he assisted in setting up a Philippine studies program.
He went underground when martial law was imposed in 1972, was arrested in January 1974, and detained until December that year.
He taught at the Mabini Academy in Lipa, Holy Ghost College in Manila, Hanover College in the United States, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and the University of Santo Tomas.
Lumbera was a professor emeritus at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature of the University of the Philippines (UP), where he taught since 1976.
He also served as director of the UP Film Center, 1989-1992; chairman of the Philippine Center of International PEN; and editor of Sagisag, 1976-1979, Diliman Review, 1978-1985, and Kultura, a quarterly journal of the arts published by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, since 1988.
Lumbera helped found and lead many cultural groups and societies—among them, the Pambansang Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (Panulat), Philippine Comparative Literature Association, Pamana ng Panitikan ng Pilipinas, Panulat para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan or PAKSA, Kalipunan para sa Literatura ng Pilipinas, Philippine Studies Association, Cultural Research Association of the Philippines, Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, and Concerned Artists of the Philippines. His scholarly and popular writings have provided seminal ideas and guidelines for many academicians, students, and writers.
Lumbera’s dramatic works include the rock opera ballets Tales of the Manuvu, 1976; and Rama, Hari (Rama, King), 1980; the modern sarsuwela Ang Palabas Bukas (The Show Tomorrow), 1978; Nasa Puso ang Amerika (America Is in the Heart), 1984, a stage adaptation of Carlos Bulosan’s novel; the rock musical Bayani (Hero), 1985; the libretto for Noli Me Tangere: The Musical, 1995; and the musical drama Hibik at Himagsik nina Victoria Laktaw Atbp. (Plea and Revolt of Victoria Laktaw and Others), 2002.
His musical dramas were collected in Sa Sariling Bayan: Apat na Dulang May Musika (In One’s Own Country: Four Musical Plays), 2003. With Glecy Atienza and Galileo Zafra, he co-edited the anthology Bangon: Antolohiya ng mga Dulang Mapanghimagsik (Arise: Anthology of Revolutionary Plays), 1998.
Speaking to Amadís Ma. Guerrero in a 2013 interview, Lumbera explained his fascination with theater: “As a beginning writer, I used English in fiction and shifted to poetry because I was such an inept typist…Later, I began using Tagalog in my creative writing. My discontent with publishing was the absence of any feedback from readers. In the theater, however, feedback is immediate, so that if your work is effective, you can tell right away from the reaction of the audience.”
Among his Filipino poems are some of the first in the so-called ‘bagay group’ of Ateneo, which emphasized the use of concrete images and irony in Tagalog poetry. His poems were collected in Likhang Dila, Likhang Diwa (Creations of the Tongue, Creations of the Spirit), 1993; Balaybay: Mga Tulang Lunot at Manibalang (A Fruit-Laden Branch: Poems Mellow and Newly Ripened), 2002; and Poetika/Politika: Tinipong mga Tula (Poetics/Politics: Collected Poems), 2008. Frequently anthologized is his poem “A Eulogy of Roaches.” He wrote lyrics for musical compositions, and translated poetry from English and Spanish into Filipino, and from Filipino into English.
His critical works, which reveal his nationalist stance in a wide range of fields such as literary history, literary criticism, theater, film, and popular culture, are published in Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology, which he co-edited with wife Cynthia Nograles, 1982, with revised editions published in 1997 and 2005; Revaluation, a collection of essays, 1985, with an expanded edition published in 1997; Tagalog Poetry 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in Its Development, a pioneering study in Tagalog poetry, 1986; Abot-Tanaw: Sulyap at Suri sa Nagbabagong Kultura at Lipunan (Horizons: Glimpses and Investigation into a Changing Culture and Society), a collection of critical essays, 1987; Writing the Nation/Pag-akda ng Bansa, 2000; and Filipinos Writing: Philippine Literature from the Regions, 2001.
Michelle Cruz Skinner (Arizona State University) reviewing his work on Tagalog poetry, wrote: “Bienvenido Lumbera’s study of Tagalog poetry is valuable not only as an analysis of the various forms of Tagalog poetry, but also as a historical survey which attempts to link the poetry of various periods to their social, political, and cultural milieu.”
Lumbera co-edited with Rosario Torres-Yu, Bayan at Lipunan: Kritisismo ni Bienvenido L. Lumbera, 2005; and with Ramon Guillermo and Arnold Alamon, Mula Tore Patungong Palengke: Neoliberal Education in the Philippines (From Tower to Wet Market: Neoliberal Education in the Philippines), 2007.
Lumbera’s “Sunog sa Lipa at Iba Pang Tula” (Fire in Lipa and Other Poems) won a special prize in the poetry category of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1975.
He also won National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle: in literary criticism for Revaluation, Tagalog Poetry, Abot-Tanaw, and Writing the Nation/Pag-akda ng Bansa; in poetry for Likhang Dila, Likhang Diwa; and in drama for Sa Sariling Bayan.
His poems “Uyayi” (Lullabye), 1965, and “Parabula” (Parable), 1966, received honorable mentions in the Talaang Ginto of the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa. He was given the Tanglaw ng Panitikan Award by the De La Salle University Writers Workshop in 1981, and a merit award in 1984 and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas Award for criticism in 1993, both from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas.
Lumbera also received the Gawad CCP para sa Sining for cultural research, 1991; the Ramon Magsaysay Award for journalism, literature, and creative communication arts, 1993; the Gawad Chanselor as one of UP’s outstanding teachers, 1993; and the CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts, 1999. He was proclaimed National Artist for literature in 2006.
In 2020, Bien! Bien! Alagad ng Sining, Alagad ng Bayan (Bien! Bien! Son of the Arts, Son of the Nation), a festschrift in honor of Lumbera edited by Galileo S. Zafra, Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III, and Teresita Gimenez-Maceda, was published by the Department of Filipino and Philippine Studies and the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino (Center of the Filipino Language) of UP Diliman.
Lumbera died in Quezon City at the age of 89. He was married to Cynthia Nograles with whom he had four children.
Alexander Martin Remollino, writing for Bulatlat.com in 2006, said about his impact on Philippine culture: “Lumbera has not only significantly affected Philippine culture. He has contributed immensely to the formation of a truly Filipino culture.”
He added: “Lumbera contributed to the Filipinos’ self-awareness by unearthing, through painstaking research, the achievements of our nation in the field of culture for the past several hundred years.
“Aside from this, Lumbera has directly contributed to the further development of an authentically Filipino culture by creating poetry and drama reflecting the continuing Filipino quest for full independence, and by promoting through his critical studies the works of other artists who work along this line.”
In that same interview, Lumbera explained his concept of a Filipino identity anchored on an awareness of history:
“In the case of the Philippines, when we talk about national identity, I believe the artist must be aware of the history of his country; specifically the revolutionary history of the Philippines, about what those who fought against Spanish and American colonialism went through.
“That consciousness is a weight that the Filipino artist at present should recognize. What we call the Filipino identity, therefore, is working in one’s field to assert the freedom of the Filipino people.
“About culture, the artist should recognize what comes from the past that damages the unity and awareness of the country. If an artist has cultural awareness, if he is aware of history and the culture that came here, it is important for him to be able to weigh what the natives already had and what reached the country from outside and what the Filipinos were able to achieve in terms of molding the old and the new to form an identity that is genuinely Filipino.”
Lumbera also shared his wish for Filipino writers to have a sense of the past and awareness of present realities:
“The only thing I can ask for is that there be more writers with consciousness of our country’s history and culture, and that such consciousness paves the way for them to create works that would link with the people’s conditions.”