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Obituary

N.V.M. Gonzalez; Philippine Literary Icon

November 30, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

N.V.M. Gonzalez, the 1997 National Artist for Literature of the Republic of the Philippines, a prolific literary icon and the sole Regents' professor at UCLA last year, has died. He was 84.

Gonzalez, who received his nation's Centennial Award for Literature in 1998, died Saturday in Quezon City, Philippines, after suffering a stroke Nov. 24, Prosy de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Filipino community, told The Times. Funeral services in the Philippines are scheduled for Saturday and a California memorial service will be scheduled in January.

Known to fans and scholars alike simply as "NVM," Gonzalez was revered for preserving Filipinos' cultural roots through his short stories and other writings, which were translated into several languages. When he came to UCLA to teach a graduate seminar on Philippine and Filipino American Literature, the university news magazine "Cross Currents" described him as "the Philippines' foremost creative writer in English."

Neal H. Cruz, an avid NVM reader, recently wrote in his column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer: "NVM country is to the Philippine rural landscape as William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County was to the American Old South."

Among Gonzalez's books were "A Grammar of Dreams" and "Bread of Salt and Other Stories," two collections of his short stories dating from the early 1950s, and "The Novel of Justice," all published in the last six years. Earlier he wrote a number of novels, including "A Season of Grace" and "The Bamboo Dancers."

During his tenure in Los Angeles, Gonzalez was the subject of a documentary about his career in writing and teaching, "N.V.M. Gonzalez: A Story Yet to Be Told." The film, by Jerome Academia, Visual Communications Workshop coordinator, and poet Russell C. Leong of UCLA, premiered last year at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. Gonzalez appeared at the event, sponsored by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the East West Players, to discuss the creative process of bringing the spoken word to life on screen.

De la Cruz, in reporting the author's death, said Gonzalez "appreciated his land, his people, his language, his culture, and mostly wrote about the simplicity of life."

Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzalez was born Sept. 8, 1915, on the Philippines' Romblon Island, and studied at the Kenyon School of English and at Stanford and Columbia universities. He began working for English-language publications in Manila, serving as a writer for Graphic Weekly for many years and as editor of the Manila Evening News Magazine from 1946 to 1948.

He taught widely, first for the University of Santo Tomas and Philippine Women's University, both in Manila, and for two decades at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. He also taught as a visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong and in the United States at Cal State Hayward and the University of Washington as well as UCLA.

And Gonzalez always wrote--short stories initially and in 1941, his first novel, "The Winds of April."

Although the book garnered critical acclaim and won honorable mention in the Commonwealth Literary Awards, it was soon buffeted by the winds of war as the Japanese occupied the Philippines. Soldiers, historians noted, used copies of the book as fuel for cooking and making tea.

Few copies survived, and the book was little read until Gonzalez's growing reputation prompted its republication a few years ago by the University of the Philippines Press.

Among Gonzalez's other early books were "Seven Hills Away," "Children of the Ash-Cover Loam and Other Stories," "Look, Stranger, on This Island Now" and "Mindoro and Beyond."

Gonzalez is survived by his wife of 57 years, Narita, four children, and five grandchildren.

De la Cruz said any memorial donations can be sent to NVM Inc. in care of his son, Michael Gonzalez, 1040 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306.

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