The 1st Nick Joaquin Literary Awards-Asia Pacific: A toast to emerging writers and an old friendship

Photos From Left: T. Anthony Cabangon (second from left), publisher of the Business Mirror and Philippines Graphic, shares the stage with winners of the 1st Asia-Pacific Nick Joaquin Literary Awards at the Winford Resort and Casino in Manila last Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The winners are Jade-Ceres Violet Dolor Munoz (5th from left), Poet of the Year; Prachi Topiwala-Agarwal (6th from left), first prize for fiction in English; Filipina, Anneliz Marie A. Erese (4th from left), second prize; and Vicky Chong (7th from left), third prize. Also in photo are judge Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo (third from left) and Business Mirror literary editor, Alma Aileen Anonas-Carpio (right). Cabangon keynotes the event. National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose gives a bit of advice to the four ladies who won prizes at the 1st Asia-Pacific Nick Joaquin Literary Awards.

The 1st Nick Joaquin Literary Awards-Asia Pacific
A toast to emerging writers and an old friendship
Text and Photo By Nate C. Barretto

The 1st Nick Joaquin Literary Awards (NJLA)-Asia Pacific held last Wednesday night at the Winford Resort and Casino in Manila was one incredible event to celebrate the blossoming of four writers, all women, whose individual works first published in Business Mirror’s Tony and Nick section were deemed the best.

Keynoting the event was T. Anthony Cabangon, publisher of the Business Mirror and The Philippines Graphic, in whose mind the idea of expanding the NJLA to member nations of the ASEAN, Hong Kong, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Australia came two years ago.

Cabangon remembered his father and predecessor at the Graphic, the late Ambassador to Laos Antonio “Tony” L. Cabangon Chua, as a man who loved the media and his writer-friends. And among those friends, there was a special place in his heart for his editor at the Graphic, Nick Joaquin.  “I remember my father saying: ’The Graphic is Nick Joaquin; and Nick Joaquin is The Graphic.’ Because of their strong friendship, they shared this noble cause to help young writers and have their works published,” he said.

This is the reason why the Business Mirror came up with a section called Tony and Nick. It was a tribute to their friendship and their cause to publish new aspiring writers’ works of fiction in English as well as the occasional poetic musings of some journalists paying homage to their literary roots. “This (section) expanded to welcome works from writers in the Southeast Asia region and include them in a contest, which is why now we have the first Nick Joaquin Literary Awards-Asia Pacific,” explained Cabangon.

The winners

The first set of winners of these awards was led by Jade-Ceres Violet Dolor Muñoz, a Pinay who lives in Auckland, New Zealand. She works there as a digital marketing consultant, but has a 15-year background in writing professionally. Her piece, “For Abby and those who struggle daily” earned her the “Poet of the Year” award.

First prize for fiction was Prachi Topiwala-Agarwal, whose piece “Mountains of Fear, Valleys of Hope,” was one of two winning entries from Singapore. A native of Mumbai, Agarwal has a husband and two daughters. At present, she is completing her Masters of Arts in Creative Writing at the Lasalle College in Singapore.

“Winning this award is very honoring and very humbling; and it’s very encouraging for someone (like me) who is just starting to write,” Agarwal told “I will write some more. I am inspired to write about the women of India. I try to have some social relevance (in what I write),” she added.

The second prize winner was another Filipina, Anneliz Marie A. Erese, whose entry titled, “Departures,” came by way of Australia. Her short story is inspired by her own migration to the land down under. She holds a master’s degree in Writing and Literature and is the founding editor of ALPAS Journal, a digital publication for Filipino creatives.

Finally, third prize winner for fiction was Vicky Chong for her short story titled, “The Uber Driver.” Chong is doing her MA in Creative Writing at the Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore. Her works have been published in Readers’ Digest, The Graduate and Singapore Marketer; and more may be up ahead. Speaking to thephilbiznews, Chong said: “This award is an affirmation for me as a writer and really inspires and honors me and makes me happy. I have completed three manuscripts which I’m currently trying to edit.”

All of the winners were flown in from their respective countries and billeted at a hotel by the NJLA.

A glass trophy and a handsome cash prize were given to each of the winners of the 2019 cycle of the Asia-Pacific NJLA. The cash prizes were in dollars. For fiction, the first prize winner received $1,000; the second prize is $600 and the third prize is $400. The single Tony & Nick Poet of the Year awardee received a cash prize of $1,000.

Speaking at the awards, Literary Editor of the Tony and Nick Section Alma Aileen Anonas-Carpio congratulated the honorees for the night. “I hail the courage of our winners; I hail the courage of our contributors. I only publish the work of brave people. That said, the rules for what sees print in our pages is a tradition taken from Nick Joaquin, himself… it is what makes for good literature.”

The Panel

The exemplary panel of judges was chaired by poet, essayist and fictionist Alfred “Krip” A. Yuson, who has authored 23 books, won in the National Book Awards and has already been elevated to the Hall of Fame of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Literary Awards.

Joining him in the panel were teacher, editor, writer, and pioneer of creative nonfiction Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo and Singaporean poet, writer, editor, anthologist and translator Alvin Pang.

A special night

Since 2004, the NJLA has feted its winning Filipino fictionists to a night of prizes galore and a prestigious audience of quintessential writers. This first Asia Pacific awards lived up to such a gala with Sampaguita Flores-Nepomuceno onstage to serenade with Kundiman and OPM classics and cultural dancers performing folk dances.

The awards night was made even more special by the epic attendance of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, along with judges Pantoja and Yuson and other prized writers as Che Sarigumba, Graphic editor-in-chief Joel Pablo Salud, and Anonas-Carpio.

For second prize winner, Erese, and Poet of the Year, Munoz, having them in the audience is a prize in itself. “I was so inspired when Jose said to ‘keep writing.’ I think it’s the best thing you can just tell someone to keep going at it,” Erese told “Writing is so solitary and if you just keep it to yourself and you don’t put yourself out there, then, I guess, it becomes lonely. To be surrounded by a great literary community is a great pleasure.”

To Munoz, winning Poet of the Year was as equal a thrill as coming home to be embraced by the elite in the literary circle. “I feel a lot closer to being a poet, I guess. Not a lot of people know this about me, but I come from a family of writers, so that makes it all the more important for me to try to prove myself every time. This (award) is validation for me,” she told

A Business Mirror report cited Munoz’s father as “Philippine News editor in chief Ramon Faustino “Beting” Laygo Dolor II, who won second prize in the regular 2015 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards for his short story “Diary of an Alien Abductee.”

The sponsors

Anonas-Carpio said this maiden voyage for the NJLA as an international contest could not have been successful without corporate sponsors, which have boldly proven its support for literature, culture and the arts.

Sponsoring the 1st Asia Pacific Nick Joaquin Literary Awards were the Business Mirror, The Philippines Graphic, the National Center for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Bonifacio Global City Mind Museum, and Erehwon Center for the Arts.

Other sponsors included Richmonde Hotels and Resorts, Luljetta’s Place Garden Suites, Kitsho Japanese Restaurant, Landbank, SM, Pag-IBIG Fund, Philippine National Bank (PNB), Philippine Airlines (PAL), Eton Properties Philippines, Inc., Absolute and Summit drinking water, Heineken, Embassy Whiskey, Sharp appliances, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, Sante Barley, Cook magazine, Business Mirror Health and Fitness, DWIZ 882 AM radio, CNN Philippines, and Pilipino Mirror, Winford Manila Resort and Casino, LT Group, Inc.


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