MANILA, Philippines — “She doesn’t pull her punches and does not mince words. She’s not worried about making enemies.”
Writer Susan Lara said her former publisher in the martial law-era magazine Focus Philippines was as straightforward in life as she was in her writing.
Renowned fictionist Kerima Polotan-Tuvera was, in all her 85 years, also an essayist, journalist, teacher, wife, mother of 10, and grandmother of 19. For friends and family, though, her greatest achievement was fulfilling all these roles with great fervor.
Writers celebrate the life of the literary icon who died of a lingering illness on August 19, Friday. Tuvera was a prolific author said to have an honest and sharp voice. She is known for works like the award-winning novel, “The Hand of the Enemy,” and short stories like “The Virgin,” “The Trap,” and “The Sounds of Sunday,” which earned her Palancas.
“The number of books that she has written doesn’t really matter because all of them contain stories and essays of compelling beauty and profound wisdom,” said fellow Palanca award-winning writer and friend Rony Diaz in a eulogy for Tuvera.
Illustrating how cutting her former publisher could be, Lara recalled how Tuvera responded to a contributor who wrote her complaining about the way she edited the writer’s work. The contributor pointed out that she had a master’s degree, and questioned why Tuvera never edited Lara’s stories.
Tuvera wrote in reply, “People with a master’s degree in something or other make the God-awfullest writers because their heads are weighed down with all that academic larnin’.” Not content, the editor even published the contributor’s letter and her response in the magazine.
“Kerima Tuvera was acerbic. Mahirap iyang galitin but we love her. She was endearing,” said Lara.
Vitriol, friendship, love
According to friends, the Kerima they knew indeed spoke strong words but there was more to her than that.
Lawyer and former stage actress Dolly Benavides treated Tuvera like a sister. Tuvera was her mother’s favorite English student at the Arellano University in the 1940s. The teacher ended up acting as mother to the orphaned Tuvera.
“She was a very loving person, cariñosa and soft-spoken, unlike some of her writing which can be quite vitriolic when she’s mad, but she can be very tender in her writing and in her dealings with people,” said Benavides.
“We were real bohemians, just fun-loving youngsters. She enjoyed good conversation, good jokes, good company.”
Irene David-Jurado also knew Tuvera since their days as college editors. She eventually became Tuvera’s lawyer, acquitting the journalist in 12 libel cases. Aside from Focus Philippines, Tuvera edited the Evening Post newspaper, and worked for publications likeYour Magazine, This Week, and the Junior Red Cross Magazine.
“When she was writing, talagang tinitira niya eh, very ano siya, very emotional,” said Jurado. “Her loves and hates were so intense. She loved writing. It was an obsession.”
Other than writing, Tuvera’s great love was a fellow college editor and writer, Juan “Johnny” Tuvera from the University of Santo Tomas’s Varsitarian. During martial law, Juan Tuvera became executive assistant of then President Ferdinand Marcos, drawing his wife into the circle of the Marcoses. In 1970, Kerima Tuvera wrote, “Imelda Romualdez Marcos, A Biography.”
The writer’s vengeance
Tuvera gave many aspiring writers a break and supported their fledgling careers. She is considered a literary mother of the Philippines, along with fictionist Edith Tiempo, who died just two days after she passed away. Incidentally, their husbands also died just two months apart from each other in 1996. The couples were close friends.
Lara said, “It’s a double whammy for us and we really cried. We want to help writers as she and Edith did.”
Benavides and Jurado also find it hard to come to terms with their friend’s death. “Our love for each other was more than love,” said Jurado.
Despite their mourning, family and friends know Tuvera lived a full life. She said so herself. In the author’s note in her book, “Stories (A Collection of Short Fiction),” Tuvera wrote: “Life, I am happy to say, has spared me nothing and I have, in turn, given it no quarter. Life scars the writer but he is not without weapons of vengeance. The art of fiction is a prism that he can use to refract human experience. That one can write about something gives him courage to endure it; that he has written about it brings him, if not deeper understanding, some kind of peace.”
“In other words, the writer is first a human being, before he is anything else, prone, like much of mankind, to fits of joy and pain. What happens to those around him – and yes, to him – is legitimate material, but only if he is able to illuminate it with a special insight.”