Lina Sagaral Reyes .
WHEN Alton Melvar Dapanas sent me a photocopy of an article which came out in Gold Star that Sunday, Feb. 10, I leaped with joy for him.
It was an article titled ‘’International Creative Non-Fiction Prize, Kagay-anon poet, writer long-listed,’’ which appeared on the Features Page. The article’s tagline was Nagmac, short for Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa Cagayan de Oro, meaning the organization was the source of the article. Dapanas said in a private message that it wasn’t uploaded online on Gold Star’s website because “hindi siya showbiz.’’
Immediately, I leaped towards the table where my laptop sat, and googled the website of Malahat Review of the University of Victoria in Canada, which according to the article, conducted the 2019 Constance Rooke Creative Non-Fiction Prize, and of which Dapanas was supposedly longlisted.
Then, on Malahat Review’s homepage, was the poster-announcement urging readers to check in later for the 2019 edition of the contest. How would he be longlisted in a contest that has not yet begun? I was puzzled.
The first time Dapanas got in touch with me in 2018 was to ask me to sign a statement urging the valuing of press freedom among writers and journalists in the South in solidarity with the media organization Rappler, which was undergoing a beating from President Rodrigo Duterte over their coverage. Since then, always by Dapanas’ invitation I had been drawn into the Nagmac circle, though largely at its edges, supporting their projects, buying every indie book they published. I found Nagmac a dynamic and vibrant group, with Dapanas being their spinmeister in social media.
I had always praised Dapanas for his adroit digital negotiations and linkages which lifted Nagmac in the social sphere, and for initiatives which brought literature to the young as Nagmac held workshops and poetry readings. I also urged him not to forget his writings as he is first and foremost a writer.
I would know later that I was among the select people to whom he sent the article, nay praise release, as later, even two senior members of Nagmac did not know the feature was published.
I turned to Tupelo Press to see if the book , “Cartographies of Our Skin’’, was listed online among its releases. No, it wasn’t. I tried to find out if his name is on its list of authors. No, it wasn’t.
Having much work to do for my own projects for Gold Star, I set the thoughts aside, until other writers expressed their doubts and contacted me. Some of them had contacted Malahat Review by email and private message to learn the truth from the horses’ mouth.
Indeed, Malahat Review said, “The 2019 Constance Rooke Creative Non-fiction Prize has not yet opened. We will be accepting entries starting May 2019. So there isn’t currently a longlist, shortlist , or winner for the 2019 contest.’’
Map of a Ghost Book
As for Tupelo Press, which was indicated as the publisher for the book, Jeffry Levine, publisher and artistic director, said, “Our publishing house has not published this book.’’
Further, Levine said, “We have no knowledge of the book, nor of this writer. We urge strongly that the record be set straight.’’
It was not the first time I have heard of “Cartographies” for as early as April last year, Dapanas had mentioned it to me in a private message. That it had been published in New Zealand in 2016, and was nominated for the 2017 Anne Carson Prize in Creative Non-fiction.
During three occasions this year, he had posted on Facebook that the volume “had been recently launched abroad.’’ But in April last year, he posted that it was launched overseas. In the Gold Star article, it was mentioned to have been published by Tupelo in 2017.
Creative non-fictionist Ria Valdez told me that she doubted “Cartographies” existed at all because “it was always forthcoming’’. No one, since 2016 when he first mentioned the book, had seen a glimpse of it nor its cover or pages or its text. None of it has ever been posted on Facebook or anywhere in the cybersphere.
The article also mentioned that Dapanas had also been nominated to the Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize, two of the prestigious literary publishing projects in the United States. An online search proved that anyone can nominate any literary piece to both bodies, and thus a nomination is not a recognition or award.
My saddest surprise, however, was the realization that he was never a fellow at the Iyas National Writers Workshop in Bacolod, even as he also added that detail in the article. He had told me many intricate anecdotes of how the workshop was conducted by poets Drs. Dinah Roma and Marjorie Evasco, including their critiques on his poetry, and how the fellows had behaved or misbehaved. His fellowship in Iyas is also on his bio notes to contributions in Dagmay, the literary journal of the Davao Writers Guild.
But a letter of denial signed by poet and lawyer Raymundo Pandan Jr., project director of the Iyas National Writers Workshop, stated: “So far as we are able to verify from our records, Alton Melvar Dapanas, has never been a fellow to the workshop. There is no proof of such as a date when he attended the workshop to support his statement in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.”
Atty. Pandan further said that Gold Star, having known this, must correct the apparent falsity.
The Nagmac Board in its statement sent via private message on Messenger on Sunday, March 3, after a Board Meeting at 7:31 pm, and signed by Nagmac Board of Directors through the account of playwright Dennis Flores, said that “Nagmac has already informed Gold Star of the discrepancies in the article and that it has been already removed from their website.’’
Up to this moment, neither Herbie Gomez nor Cong Corrales, editor-in-chief and associate editor, respectively, has received any letter or note of rectification from Nagmac. The article was never uploaded on the website but an e-copy of the issue remains in the paper’s e-archives.
The Nagmac statement added that “Nagmac is still conducting investigations and verifying all claims of which the Gold Star will be informed of the results. Based on the findings of our investigations, Nagmac will suggest Gold Star release an erratum but it is up to their discretion if they to do this.”
The statement further says that Dapanas is put on temporary probation while the investigation commences.
It further implored “that all outside entities refrain from spreading any information regarding the issue until it has completed the task. You will be informed of the org’s final decision once the board has convened and reached it unanimously. Rest assured the claims are being taken very seriously. An appropriate and just decision will be delivered.’’
On March 1, I informed Dapanas that I and some other writers knew about his false claims and that I also knew the article was sent through his personal e-mail. Since then, I have not heard from him.
(Lina Sagaral Reyes is a special correspondent of this paper. Aside from being a journalist, she also stands by the peripheries of the literary community. She is featured in Voices On the Waters: Conversations with Five Mindanao Writers [Ateneo University Press, 2018] and her poetry is anthologized in The Mastery Of, the Achieve Of [UP Press, 2018].)