A Writer Provocateur: An Interview with Karlo Antonio Galay David

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“How little I know of my town. I started to get interested on our local history when I saw the Omar Kiram building."



   Karlo Antonio Galay David is known for his provocative pronouncements and controversial arguments with other writers in the country. But as you try to get to know him better, he is just a typical writer who likes to write stories about Mindanao and its complexities.


   Karlo’s family has been in Kidapawan in North Cotabato for four generations. Although they are now residing in Davao City, Karlo does not forget his roots and continue to promote Kidapawan in his own capacity. For example, he is currently writing the history of Kidapawan. 

   “How little I know of my town,” Karlo said to himself. “I started to get interested on our local history when I saw the Omar Kiram building. There’s a Kidapawan history book written by Ferdinand Burgonia. But I got frustrated when I read it because there were no references cited in the book. There was also no validation during its editing process. That’s why I took the initiative to validate the facts. Then I realized, why not write about Kidapawan’s history.” He took the initiative to do this project because he realized that the existing written history was badly written. He has been working on it for the past two years. 

   Karlo started his interest in writing when he was in Grade 6 at Notre Dame of Kidapawan. His Filipino teacher required them to produce a stage play for the class. He was assigned as a director while his classmate was the scriptwriter. But his classmate gave up the role and passed it on to Karlo. He was able to write a play, mount it and the play won the contest. From that experience, he started to love writing. 

   When he entered college at Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), Karlo was in the crossroad whether he wanted to pursue writing. He was not sure what he really wanted that time, but in his sophomore year, he made a firm decision to pursue writing. Most of his works were published in Dagmay, but he described them as “immature works,” wishing that he didn’t publish them. 

   His short story “Barefooted Girl” was published in ADDU’s literary folio. The story is about an Ateneo student who raped a Badjao girl. It caused an uproar within the university. Most students that time got curious whether the story was true or not. The school administration called Karlo to issue a statement to clarify such speculation. 

   Karlo writes fiction, drama, and translations in English, Cebuano, and the variety of “Davao Tagalog.” He was an AB English graduate from ADDU and took Master’s in Creative Writing from Silliman University. He was a fellow to the 2010 Ateneo de Davao Campus Writers Workshop, the 2011 Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in Bacolod, and the 2012 Silliman National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete. 


“The workshops were an immense help to my writing.”


   “The workshops were an immense help to my writing,” said Karlo. “The first workshop I've been to, Ateneo de Davao's campus workshop, changed my life. It showed me what it was like to read and write properly (it was a full circle moment for me when I panelled it last year). The workshop after that, Iyas in Bacolod, had Marjorie Evasco sit in the panel, and it's no exaggeration to say she taught me how to read poetry. In Silliman I got to meet lifelong friends like Arkay Timonera and Mike Gomez, who would continue giving me critical feedback on my work long after I stopped applying to workshops (Sionil was right, the most important thing you get from workshops are good writer friends). “Their humility is exercised in in writers’ workshops, so I don't get why kids these days cry when their works are being critiqued or walk around bragging about their fellowships.” 

   He has a Nick Joaquin Literary Award for fiction and a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for one act play in English. Although he won a Palanca Award, he doesn’t see any relevance in it. 

    “Aside from money you get, you just smell good for a small crowd,” said Karlo. “In general, people do not know you.” 

    His writing process may depend on what genre he is writing. But in general, he cannot sit down and write if the story is not yet finished in his mind. He takes walks in his place thinking about the story in his head. It takes around 2 months or 3 years to complete the story. He is currently finishing his first collection of short stories and editing two books that are under ADDU publishing. 




“It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation of doing what you want instead of doing what you have to as a writer. Do you write for an audience? For a market? For Readership? Or for yourself?”

The struggle of writers 


   “There’s no money in writing if you’re a literary writer,” said Karlo. "Some writers write because they think that is what good for literature but no one reads their works. Some writers also write for a market but they have no introspection. It is a challenge to strike a balance between the two.” 

   Karlo pointed out that what we consider “literary” (e.g. social realist works or works with theoretically grounded aesthetics) do not sell much in the country, especially if written by Filipino writers. While popular literature (e.g. romance young adult novels, humor nonfiction like Bob Ong books, and Hugot poetry) is more profitable.

   “There are more Filipinos who read She's Dating a Gangster than Antonio Enriquez's Palanca award winning novel Green Sanctuary: Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh,” Karlo added. 

   Karlo realized this reality after he graduated his Masters in Siliman University. He is struggling to balance the two realities and continue to find ways to be more relevant. 

   “It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation of doing what you want instead of doing what you have to as a writer,” he said. “Do you write for an audience? For a market? For Readership? Or for yourself?” 

   Karlo is also concerned about literary gatekeeping and cliquishness. 

   “Often it doesn't matter how good you are; if you don't have the right friends you ain't going nowhere (Giacomo Leopardi would never have been known if he was a Filipino writer). Conversely, you can be successful as a writer, no matter how mediocre you are, if you have the right friends and sleep with the right people.” 

   Karlo acknowledged the problem of “Manila-centric” nature of publishing opportunities and literary canon. He sees federalism as solution to break these problems. 

   “Federalism will pave the way for economic growth in the regions, which will help increase the likelihood that creative industries like publishing to flourish locally. It also increases local cultural pride, which gives further incentive to public and private sector alike to invest in local culture. That's not to mention how a devolved education system and cultural administration will radically reorient how we envision our canon.” 





   “We are in the climate of highly politicized times. It’s easy to hate, it’s fun to hate someone. They hate me with such bitterness to the point that I’m in shock. Where does it come from? When in fact they don’t even know me personally."

The clash of Filipino writers 


   Karlo stands on what he believes. He is unapologetic and never ashamed of his opinions. His pro-Duterte stance made him more popular among anti-Duterte groups in the country. 

   He confessed that other (Filipino) writers caused him a headache. “I don’t mind them because they are irrelevant,” Karlo said. “The best way to handle it is to ignore them. But if they are worth picking a fight with, I’ll pick a fight.” 

   “I don’t have a problem with it except if they take it personally. There are writers whom I strongly disagree with but maintain a friendly relationship with. If I can maintain a cordial or friendly relation to those I violently disagree with, why are these nobodies picking fights with me.” 

   His strong viewpoints and sharp tongue made a “kontrabida” impression of him in the writing community. 

   “We are in the climate of highly politicized times. It’s easy to hate, it’s fun to hate someone. They hate me with such bitterness to the point that I’m in shock. Where does it come from? When in fact they don’t even know me personally,” Karlo said. “It’s the effect of ‘Duterte divide’.” 

   “Perhaps you disagree with my stances, you respond to my stances. Do you know what my stances are? You probably just heard of it. Some writers, who are supposedly intelligent, formed opinions without fully knowing the things that they form opinions about. Maybe time will allow it to calm down. Maybe time will help them realize their stupidity.” 





The settlers’ dilemma 


   Karlo’s “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Colono: Settling Issues on Mindanao Settler Identity” was supposed to be part of last year’s SOX Zine Fest but he withdrew his participation to the event due to some ideological reasons. The zine talks about what it means to be a Mindanawon through the lens of a “settler.” It also tries to contribute to the discourse on Mindanawon identity by discussing the problem of labels and terminologies. 

   “The zine is a more reader friendly expansion of a paper, which was serialized in Davao Today in 2017. I found that the discussions in that paper were too academic and difficult to digest, so I made it into a FAQ style piece (inspired partly by Bo'i Era Espana's book Poovian woy Gontangan). It's the result of years of reflection on Settlerhood, and I felt there is a need to address many issues being raised about it. I wrote it in pamphlet style, inspired partly by the work of the likes of Marcelo del Pilar and Emilio Jacinto, which in this case became a zine. I'm still thinking if I'll release it, but clamour is increasing, so I'll consider my options,” Karlo said. 

   The zine might help us in understanding ourselves, especially during these times when we are becoming victims of our own divisiveness and prejudices. It also has a potential to be a full blown book if additional references are added to support his claims. 

   Karlo had a thesis for his masters entitled “Davao Filipino and its Literary Possibilities.” This form of Tagalog is common and have mutated to their own forms depending on where you are in Mindanao. 

   “I just followed previous studies conducted regarding this topic,” said Karlo. “There’s a divide between academic attention and popular attention (e.g. social media personalities like Davao Conyo). How do you make the subject dignified?” 

   “There is a stigma on using it. We have to change that negative perception about it. My study only adds to the small body of research in this subject. I am hoping that it will help shatter the stigma. I encourage people to write and use more their local language to make it dignified.” 




“We should link with the teachers. We need to work with them. Are we up to their needs? Are we relevant enough to be taught in class? It’s a good marketing opportunity for writers.”


SOX literary scene 


   Karlo is glad that the literary community in Region 12 is starting to get noticed. 

   “It’s starting which is lovely and I hope the writers are reading each other’s work. Are they reading and responding to each other’s works?” Karlo asked. 

   “While I’m happy about it, I’m also concerned. Are we reading each other’s works? Are we genuinely fostering an organic literary economy in SOCCSKSARGEN? Have we generated enough interest in the region to buy our works? Are we just encouraging the writers without encouraging the readers?” 

   Karlo emphasizes the role of educators in helping the literary community in our region. 

   “We should link with the teachers. We need to work with them. Are we up to their needs? Are we relevant enough to be taught in class? It’s a good marketing opportunity for writers,” Karlo said. 

   Karlo has high hopes for the region. But still give emphasis on its impact and relevance in organizing literary events in the region. 

“It’s good we begin such events. But we tend to measure success through the number of events that we organized. We should grow up on that,” Karlo said. “We should not end with the beginning. We should think more on how our works gain more readers, have impact and become relevant.” 

   “I hope to see or read fiction from our region. We should write more about our region,” Karlo added. 

   Karlo also encourage aspiring writers to read more books especially topics on history, anthropology, ethnography and politics. Most importantly, knowing the importance of your role as a writer. 

   “You should know who you are writing for. What are you trying to do as a writer.” Karlo said. “It’s trendy to say that ‘I’m writing for myself’ but you’re not going to last. You should know what you want to do as a writer and keep on doing it. 

   “We should write and try to get read.” Karlo added. 






~To read more of Karlo's works, you can visit his blog at this link:
https://lefthandedsnake.wordpress.com/




[photo credits: Karlo Antonio Galay David, Matet Rulona and Jesus Allaga Montajes]

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Yadu Karu's Blog: A Writer Provocateur: An Interview with Karlo Antonio Galay David
A Writer Provocateur: An Interview with Karlo Antonio Galay David
Karlo Antonio Galay David is known for his provocative pronouncements and controversial fights with other writers in the country. But as you try to get to know him better, he is just a typical writer who likes to write stories about Mindanao and its complexities.
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