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Nick Joaquin (1917-2004)


Philippine novelist, poet, playwright, biographer, and essayist writing in English, the National Artist for Literature.  Joaquin wrote largely about the Spanish colonial period and the diverse heritage of the Filipino people. Often he dealt with the coexistence of 'primitive' and 'civilized' dimensions inside the human psyche. After World War II Joaquin worked as a journalist, gaining fame as a reporter for the Free Press. His most acclaimed play is A Portrait of the Artist As Filipino  (1952).

"But there was one house in this street that never became a slum; that resisted the jungle, and resisted it to the very end; fighting stubbornly to keep itself intact, to keep itself individual. It finally took a global war to destroy that house and the three people who fought for it. Though they were destroyed, they were never conquered. They died with their house, and they died with their city-and maybe it’s just as well they did. They could have never survived the destruction of the old Manila..."
(Bitoy Camacho in A Portrait of the Artist As Filipino,  1952)

Nick Joaquin was born in Paco on Calle Herran, the son of Leocadio Y. Joaquin, a lawyer and a colonel of the Philippine Revolution, and Salome Marquez, a schoolteacher. After three years of secondary education at the Mapa High School, Joaquin dropped out of school to work on Manila’s waterfront and in odd jobs. On his spare time he read widely at the National Library and on his father's library; he died when Joaquin was 13. Joaquin's brother Porfirio (Ping) Joaquin was a jazz pianist and for a period he worked in the same vaudeville as a stage hand.

Joaquin started to write short stories, poems, and essays in 1934. His first poem,  a piece about Don Quixote, appeared in 1935 the Tribune, where he was employed as a proofreader. The story 'Three Generations', published in the Herald Midweek Magazine in 1940, marked the beginning of a new era for Filipino writing in English. After the Spanish-American war in 1898, English  had became the official medium of instruction in the country and virtually all Spanish literature ceased. Since the 1970s, Tagalog strengthened its position as the national literary language alongside English. Together with such writers as Stevan Javellana, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Celso Carunungan, and Kerima Polotan Tuvera, Joaquin influenced the development of the Philippine novel and short story.

Joaquin's essay on the defeat of a Dutch fleet by the Spaniards off the Philippines in 1646 earned him in 1947 a scholarship to study in Hong Kong at the Albert College, founded by the Dominicans. After less than two years, he left the seminary, finding it impossible for him to adjust to rigid rules. In a poem he wrote: "But I am Balthassar, cracked with years and learning, / lost in a world where all gods have died: always and everywhere, I must see a gibbet burning." ('Six P.M.,' Collected Verse, 1987) Joaquin  never abandoned the Catholic faith of his parents, and whenever it was possible for him he received the Holy Communion.

Starting as a proofreader at the Philippines Free Press, Joaquin eventually rose to contributing editor and essayist under the pen name 'Quijano de Manila' (Manila Old Timer).  As a member of a group of Filipino journalists, he traveled in China in 1966 and met Henry Pu-yi, the last Chinese emperor, who worked as a gardener in the Forbidden Palace. Joaquin's  travels to many countries around the world helped him to deepen his insight of his own country. In the essay 'A Heritage in Smallness' he said: "With the population welling, and land values rising, there should be in our cities, an upward thrust in architecture, but we continue to build small, in our timid two-story fashion. Oh, we have excuses. The land is soft: earthquakes are frequent. But Mexico City, for instance, is on far swampier land and Mexico City is not a two-story town. San Francisco and Tokyo are in worse earthquake belts, but San Francisco and Tokyo reach up for the skies. Isn't our architecture another expression of our smallness spirit?"

Studies for priesthood explain part the Christian setting of Joaquin's stories and constant attention to the spiritual life of his characters. His writing also build a bridge from modern world view to primitive beliefs. When the young Guido in the short story 'The Summer Solstice' (Tropical Gothic, 1972) returns from Europe to his home, he tells Doña Lupeng: "Ah, I also learned to open my eyes over there – to see the holiness and the mystery of what is vulgar."  Set in the 1850s, this work portrayed the collision between instincts and refined culture. Doña Lupeng first rejects ancient beliefs, but under the spell of the moon, she becomes possessed by the spirit of the Tadtarin cult – she does not want to be loved and respected anymore but adored as the embodiment of the matriarchal powers. 'The Summer Solstice' was later made into a play and filmed in 2001 under the title of Tatarin by Tikoy Aguiluz.

Prose and Poems (1952) was followed by the Barangay Theatre Guild's production of his play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, set on the eve of the Pacific war.  The title refers to James Joyce's famous book, not without ironic tone. A Portrait, originally published in Weekly Women's Magazine and first staged in 1955, is considered the most important Filipino play in English. Joaquin focused on a family conflict, in which traditional cultural models are reconciled with individual values. The descendants of Don Lorenzo refuse to sell the masterpiece and a national treasure, 'Retrato del Artista Como Filipino', which he has painted for them. Eventually the daughters Paula and Candida destroy the painting, as an act of liberation. "Yes – we have been born again – not of his flesh but of is spirit," says Candida. Joaquin's source of inspiration was the Guerrero family, which he once described as  "a mixture, a very uneasy blend, of religious conservatism and intellectual radicalism."  The prize-novel The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961) examined the pressures of the past upon the present. Monson, the ex-revolutionary, hides in Hong Kong, afraid to face the trials of postwar independence. Again Joaquin dealt with the tensions between illusion and reality. The novel won the first Harry Stonehill Award, an yearly grant. Joaquin wrote the work while in the United States and Mexico.

During the reign of Ferdinand Marcos, who had won presidency in 1965, corruption started to fuel opposition to his administration. Joaquin's writings never brought him into conflict with the regime, but when martial law was declared in 1972 Joaquin was subsequently suspended. At a ceremony on Mount Makiling, attended by Imelda Marcos, he spoke of freedom and the artist. He served also as a member of the Philippine Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, passing with his friend Jose A. Quirino all the films they saw. In 1970 Joaquin went on to edit Asia-Philippine Leader. He then became the editor of the Philippine Graphic Magazine and publisher of the Women’s Weekly.

Joaquin's The Aquinos of Tarlac (1983) was a biography of the assassinated presidential candidate Benigno Aquino, who led the opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos and was shot dead in the airport when he returned from exile. Three years after his death his widow Corazon Aquino became President of the Philippines. Cave and Shadows (1983) occurs in the period of martial law under Marcos.

For his work Joaquin received several awards.  He was widely considered the best postwar author in his country. His essay 'La Naval de Manila' (1943) won in a contest sponsored by the Dominicans; 'Guardia de Honor' was declared the best story of the year in 1949, he received in 1963 the Araw ng Maynila Award, and in 1966 he was conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Literature, Journalism, and Creative Communication. Joaquin was declared a National Artist in 1976; he was the most anthologized of all Philippine authors.

Joaquín died of cardiac arrest on April 29, 2004, in San Juan. He was a family friend of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her biographer. Know for his love of San Miguel beer, Joaquin enjoyed spending time with his friends in the Ermita bar, Cafe Indios Bravos, the National Press Club, or in some other watering hole. He never married. His personal library, 3,000 books and his trusty Underwood typewriter, Joaquin donated to the University of Santo Tomas.

For further reading: The Trouble with Nick & Other Profiles by Marra PL. Lanot (2000); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol 2, ed.  Steven R. Serafin (1999, vol. 2); Subversions Of Desire: Prolegomena To Nick Joaquin by Epifanio San Juan, Jr. (1988); Filipino Writers in English by Florentino B. Valeros and Estrellita V. Gruenberg (1987); New Writing from the Philippines by L. Casper (1966); Brown Heritage, ed.  A. Manuud (1967); 'Hauted Intensity' by Miguel A. Bernard in Bamboo and the Greenwood Tree (1961)

Selected works:

  • Prose and Poems, 1952 (introd. by Teodoro M. Locsin)
  • A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, 1952 - Film 1965, screenplay Donato Valentin and Trinidad Reyes, dir.  Lamberto V. Avellana, starring Daisy H. Avellana, Naty Crame­-Rogers, Conrad Parham 
  • The Woman Who Had Two Navels, 1961
  • Selected Stories, 1962
  • La Naval de Manila and Other Essays, 1964
  • Saint Eustachius, Martyr by José Rizal, 1969 (translator)  
  • Tropical Gothic, 1972
  • Reportage on Crime, 1977
  • Reportage on Lovers, 1977
  • Nora Aunor and Other Profiles, 1977
  • A Question of Heroes, Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History, 1977
  • Stories for Groovy Kids, 1979
  • Almanac for Manileños, 1979
  • Tropical Baroque, 1979
  • Language of the Street and Other Essays, 1980
  • Manila: Sin City?: And Other Chronicles, 1980
  • Juan Luna, the Filipino as Painter by Santiago Albano Pilar, 1980 (introduction by Nick Joaquin)
  • Reportage on Politics, 1981
  • Reportage on the Marcoses, 1979, 1981
  • The Ballad of the Five Battles, 1981
  • Seven Golden Cities of the Sun, 1981
  • Tropical Baroque: Four Manileño Theatricals, 1982
  • Cave and Shadows, 1983
  • Discourses of the Devil’s Advocate and Other Controversies, 1983
  • The Aquinos of Tarlac: An Essay on History as Three Generations, 1983
  • Joaquinesquerie: Myth a la Mod, 1983
  • Doy Laurel in Profile: A Philippine Political Odyssey, 1985
  • Ninoy Aquino in the Senate: Final Chapters of The Aquinos of Tarlac: An Essay on History as Three Generations, 1986
  • Quartet of the Tiger Moon: Scenes from the People-power Apocalypse, 1986
  • Collected Verse, 1987
  • The World of Rafael Salas: Service and Management in the Global Village, 1987
  • Philippine Daily Inquirer Presents Intramuros, 1988 (editor, cartoons by Nonoy Marcelo)
  • Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming, 1988
  • Jaime Ongpin, the Enigma: A Profile of the Filipino as Manager, 1990
  • Manila, My Manila: A History for the Young, 1990
  • Mr. Rural Reform: The Times and Tidings of Manny Manahan, 1990 (foreword by Raul Manglapus)
  • San Miguel de Manila: Memoirs of a Regal Parish, 1990
  • The World of Damián Domingo: Nineteeth Century Manila, 1990 (with Luciano P.R. Santiago)
  • Legaspi Drawings, 1990 (with Paul Zafaralla and Cesar Legaspi)
  • Prose and Poems, 1991
  • The PC and EDSA: A Paean to the Peers of '86, 1992
  • D.M. Guevara Story, 1993 (foreword by Dominador R. Aytona)
  • La Orosa: The Dance-Drama that is Leonor Goquingco, 1994
  • Tatang: The Life Story of Celestino M. Dizon, 1994 (foreword by Vicente M. Tanedo)
  • Mr. F.E.U., the Culture Hero That Was Nicanor Reyes, 1995
  • Hers, This Grove, 1996
  • One Woman's Liberating: The Life and Career of Dr. Estefania Aldaba-Lim, 1996
  • Rizal in Saga: A Life for Student Fans, 1996
  • Naval de Manila and Other Essays, 1998 (ed. Alberto S. Florentino)
  • Dakila F. Castro, Barrister: His Life and Time in Litigation, 1999
  • Madame Excelsis: Historying Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 2002
  • Bat Lake, 2002-03 (in Philippine Graphic magazine) 
  • A Kadre's Road to Damascus: The Ruben Torres Story, 2003
  • Frank: A Frank Sketch of E. Aquilar Cruz, 2006 (introduction by Larry J. Cruz)
  • Ed Angara: Seer of Sea & Sierra, 2006
  • Cardinal Virtues: Collection of Stories on Jaime L. Cardinal Sin by Quijano de Manila, 2007

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