On May 15th, just hours after his flight from Manila, author Jose “Butch” Dalisay Jr. gave two presentations at Malvern’s Blessed Mother Teresa CSS as part of his tour with FSALA, the Toronto Festival of Literature and the Arts.
After reading from his Palanca-winning novel, Killing Time in a Warm Place, Dalisay spoke about his life before becoming a writer.
Dalisay was born to a poor family in Romblon in the 1950s. After moving to Manila, he attended La Salle Green Hills, where he became a bookworm. “I went to this school with the sons of presidents. But being a poor kid in a rich kid’s school, I spent all of my spare time in the library,” he said.
While attending Philippine Science High School and Industrial Engineering at the University of the Philippines, a pattern emerged: Dalisay was failing in math, but excelling in English.
The students were shocked to learn that Dalisay dropped out of school during martial law.
“In the 60s, there were issues of corruption, and the military was in control of a lot of things. I joined a movement protesting these,” Dalisay said.
He learned how to make Molotov cocktails, and his friends carried AK-47s. “We were forced to become things that we would never have imagined that we would be. And I don’t want anyone else to go through that.”
At 18 years old, he was caught and imprisoned for just over seven months.
Dalisay recalled the day when he drew up a list of over twenty friends whom he had lost. “After being in prison, we did get the sense that we weren’t going to live beyond our 25th year because so many of our friends had died,” he said.
“Afterwards, I didn’t want to go back to university for ten years. And when I did go back, it was deathly quiet. The military was there to chase out anybody who would speak out against the government.”
At 27 years old, Dalisay returned to school, and by 37, he completed his PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Today, he is one of the most accomplished writers in the Philippines, and teaches at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
The Blessed Mother Teresa students responded positively to Dalisay’s presentation. Naa, a Grade 12 student, was interested in the way that he used his life in the Philippines as the source of inspiration for his books.
Raveena called his presentation “refreshing,” and Latchmin said, “It's amazing to see how someone’s culture can influence their career and passion.”
And in one of the greatest compliments to any author, Eden said, “He inspired me to keep up with my writing dreams.”
When asked how he knew that he wanted to be a writer, Dalisay said, “I’ve been shot at, and I wouldn’t be here if one of those bullets had hit me. Being here is a blessing, so I can’t waste this time. I write so I can be what I was supposed to be.”
“It’s hard to see this when you're 15 or 16, but time is the most precious thing on this earth.”
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on June 1, 2015.