Studying Santos

2:30:39 PM CDT - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

santosscholar.jpg (12,703 bytes)
Isagani Cruz, a professor from De La Salle
University in Manila, Philippines, is on a
Fulbright scholarship at WSU to study the
papers of Ben Santos, a prolific
Filipino-American writer. Cruz is planning
to write the first full-length biography of
Santos, who was a popular distinguished
writer-in-residence at WSU from 1973 until
Isagani Cruz was expecting to merely read several manuscripts written by prolific Filipino-American writer Ben Santos, when he came to WSU as a Fulbright scholar in mid-September to study the collection of Santos' papers in Ablah Library.

Instead he found boxes and boxes of scrapbooks of articles, correspondence between Santos and other important literary and creative artists, and extensive journals, in addition to the expected manuscripts.

"It's a gold mine and in very good condition," says Cruz, a professor from De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines, who is planning to write the first full-length biography of Santos, considered one of the most important Filipino-American writers.

Santos was a popular distinguished writer-in-residence at WSU from 1973 until 1982. He won numerous awards for his writing, including the American Book Award, Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundation fellowships and many awards in the Philippines. He was given an honorary doctorate from WSU in 1982, following his retirement.

When Santos retired, he donated material going back to the 1930s when he was a student in the Philippines until his retirement from WSU in 1982.

Cruz even found a letter he'd written as a young graduate student to Santos in the mid-1970s, informing Santos that a writer had plagiarized one of Santos' essays in an anthology of Asian-American literature.

Exile was a central theme of Santos' fiction. He'd experienced the heartbreak of not being able to go home to his native country more than once, and he wrote about the exile experiences of other Filipinos.

When fighting broke out in the Philippines in World War II, Santos, who was studying at Columbia University in New York City, found himself cut off from his wife and children still living in what was then an American colony. At the request of the exiled Philippine government, Santos started traveling around the United States, talking about this place where tens of thousands of American soldiers eventually lost their lives. He returned home in 1946, and then came back to America with his family in 1958 as a fellow at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

As he and his wife were planning to return to the Philippines in 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. The new regime banned Santos' novel, "The Praying Man," mistakenly thinking the story about government corruption was about Marcos. And he found himself in exile again, this time finding a position as a creative writing professor at WSU.

In 1982, Santos returned to the Philippines to bury his wife. He returned often to his homeland after that, even teaching at universities there.

Cruz, who is a resident writer at the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center at De La Salle University, eventually met Santos when he spent time in Manila. A friendship formed and a promise was made. While teaching a class on Santos' work more than a decade ago, Cruz told Santos he would publish his biography.

The WSU collection of Santos' papers is perhaps the largest such collection. Following his death in 1996, his family donated papers they'd discovered in Santos' home to the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga City, which eventually dedicated a library and museum in the writer's honor.
One of the interesting finds Cruz made in that second collection was an unpublished novel very critical of Marcos. It is atypical of Santos' work, which usually dealt with more "emotional-type stories," Cruz says.

Cruz expects to finish and publish his book in a year. His book's title, "The Lovely Bienvenido N. Santos," will pay homage to the title of Santos' first collection, "You Lovely People."

Cruz on Santos

Isagani Cruz, a Fulbright scholar who is finishing up his WSU stay later this month, will give a lecture about Ben Santos at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, in the special collections department in the lower level of Ablah Library. Cruz, who is writing a biography of Santos, a major Filipino-American writer who was at WSU from 1973 until 1982, has been studying Santos' papers given to WSU in 1982. The WSU Library Associates and the Wichita Asian Association present the lecture.

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