"Literature is an affair of letters," N.V.M. Gonzalez once said. A teacher, author, journalist and essayist, Gonzalez is one of the most widely recognized, anthologized and closely studied among Filipino writers. His most notable works include the novels The Winds of April, The Bamboo Dancers and A Season of Grace, short story collections Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and The Bread of Salt and Other Stories and essay collections Work on the Mountain and The Novel of Justice: Selected Essays. Gonzalez distinctively wrote of the Filipino life, of the Filipino in the world. Gonzalez is himself a Filipino in the world, traversing between the United States and the Philippines and exploring Europe and Asia. The affair of letters Gonzalez created is more than literature. It is the story of a Filipino in the world. It is his story.
Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzalez, familiarly known as simply "N.V.M.," was born on September 8, 1915 in Romblon, Romblon and moved to Mindoro at the age of five. The son of a school supervisor and a teacher, Gonzalez helped his father by delivering meat door-to-door. Gonzalez attended Mindoro High School from 1927 to 1930, and although he studied at National University in Manila, he never obtained a degree. While in Manila, Gonzalez wrote for the Philippine Graphic and later edited for the Evening News Magazine and Manila Chronicle. His first published essay appeared in the Philippine Graphic and his first poem in Poetry in 1934.
"For the good of my soul lately I have been reading Jose Rizal and as much as I admire Mr. Rizal's political sentiments, I must say I prefer Gonzalez as a novelist."
-Wallace Stegner, 1950
A Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, awarded to Gonzalez in 1948, allowed the aspiring author to travel to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California and Columbia University in New York City. While at Stanford, Gonzalez attended lectures and classes from many prominent writers, Wallace Stegner and Katherine Anne Porter amongst them.
After Gonzalez returned to the Philippines in 1950, he began a long teaching career, beginning with a position at the University of Santo Tomas. Gonzalez also taught at the Philippine Women's University, but it was the lengthy position at the University of the Philippines that gave distinction to Gonzalez's career - as a teacher at the university for 18 years, Gonzalez was only one of two people to teach there without holding a degree. Gonzalez hosted the first University of the Philippines writer's workshop with a group who would soon form the Ravens. In addition, Gonzalez made his mark in the writing community as a member of the Board of Advisers of Likhaan: the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center, founder The Diliman Review and as the first president of the Philippine Writers' Association.
Gonzalez continued to teach when he returned to California in the 1960s, serving as a visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara; professor emeritus at California State University, Hayward; and professor at University of California at Los Angeles' Asian American Studies Center and English department.
Throughout Gonzalez's teaching career, the author produced 14 books and accumulated many awards along the way. Through these writings, Gonzalez received many prestigious awards, including repeated Palanca Memorial Award for Literature awards, the Jose Rizal Pro Patria Award, and the City of Manila Medal of Honor. In addition, his books became internationally recognized, and his works have been translated into Chinese, German, Russian and Bahasa Indonesian.
Gonzalez received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Philippines in 1987 and became its first international writer in residence in 1988. He served as the 1998-1999 Regents Professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and continued to receive distinctions such as the National Artist Award for Literature in 1997 and the Centennial Award for Literature in 1998. In 1990 and 1996, "N.V.M. Gonzalez Days" were celebrated in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. Despite Gonzalez's travels, he never gave up his Filipino citizenship. Critics feared that Gonzalez would someday settle into the Filipino-American genre of literature, but Gonzalez often pointed out with an all-familiar twinkle in his eye, "I never left home." True to his word, the home that shaped Gonzalez's days is present in his writings, from the blossoming of a love story to the culture reflected in an immigrant experience.
N.V.M. started his career at the age of 19; 65 years later, he was still creating affairs with letters. He passed away on November 28, 1999, due to kidney complications. He was 84. N.V.M. Gonzalez is remembered as an innovative writer, a dedicated and humble worker and an honest witty friend. He will be dearly missed.