By JULES VIVAS
Francisco Sionil José, or Manong Frankie as he is called by his peers, has been living a life of passion and purpose—one dedicated to his craft and his country. The 95-year-old National Artist for Literature is famous for his novels, short stories, and non-fiction pieces centered on the social underpinnings, class struggles, and colonial history of Philippine society. His life’s work is also the very reason he is regarded as one of the greatest Filipino writers of his time, even compared to the likes Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
A couple of years away from being a Centenarian, it’s amazing how Manong Frankie persists to be a prolific writer, an unrelenting voice against social injustice and national amnesia. To this day, he still climbs the three flights of steps to his writing alcove at the Solidaridad Bookshop in Manila, which was the venue for Manila Bulletin Lifestyle’s recent tête-à-tête with him.
“Why do you want to become like me?” laughed Manong Frankie when asked him how younh writers could emulate him. “You just don’t know I also live a miserable life.”
He carried on with the conversation, sharing advice on how one could become a better writer. “Just be good at it[writing]. You know? Read, read, read, and write, write, write!” he said.
“You have to be committed first to your craft and then to the country. Because if you’re not committed to the craft, anong ibibigay mo sa bayan mo?”
That fine afternoon, Manong Frankie also explained how he conceived Mass, a 1973 historical and political novel part of the Rosales Saga, his most well-known creation and also his personal favorite.
Among Manong Frankie’s literary works and influence on the country and in Asia, he has been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Arts, Philippine National Artist, the Pablo Neruda Centennial Award, and Officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters. He is living proof that with extreme passion comes great glory.