BOOK REVIEW: FIRST DRAFT–Personal Essays by Ten Women

by Rose Cruz Churma

More than 20 years ago, Gilda Cordero Fernando gathered a group of women with the goal of producing writing for pleasure on topics that matter and resonate with them.

The women were all involved in the “world of letters” whether in creating books, news articles, or as part of the academe or in cultural work.

The women met every quarter or so, where they shared their written homework over food and drinks, and probably with lots of laughter and deepening friendships.

They used these get-togethers to have their writings critiqued.

As explained in the introduction they “indulged in introspection, reflection and self-revelation” and being freed from external restrictions the women viewed writing as a “sport” (just like how kids love soccer), or as “deep play”—to experience freedom and enjoy writing for its own sake.

But mostly, this book is an ode to Gilda Cordero Fernando, who passed away in 2020—“the National Artist we never had”, an icon in Philippine arts and letters whose body of work ranges from writing fiction and non-fiction to book publishing, theater, and the visual arts.

I first heard of Gilda Cordero through my parents. She and my parents were high school classmates at Saint James Academy in Malabon.

Run by American Maryknoll sisters, it was one of the first schools that opened soon after the Japanese Occupation.

When my parents reminisced about high school days, her name would come up—one of their classmates whose books and other writings had been published.

Once browsing through our school library, I found her book of short stories in a locked cabinet. It was the first time I would read fiction by a Filipino writer in English.

In those days, the Catholic school where I studied used an American curriculum—we read and dissected works of writers from the rest of the world—except those from the Philippines.

Her stories reflected the world as I knew it—and it woke me up. I can trace my advocacy for books and writing—awareness and pride at being Filipino—when I discovered those books in that locked cabinet.

She’s called a cultural visionary; she has inspired generations to be writers, researchers, editors, illustrators—all the talent required to get a beautiful book published.

These books have become keepsakes, collectibles—items that you keep by your side—to get inspired or serve as a link to our country of birth (for those of us who are in the Diaspora).

This anthology of essays begins with Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s “The Beginning and the End” and concludes with her “Space Clearing.”

In between are the essays of the other nine women she recruited to be part of FirstDraft, and includes essays by Fe Maria C. Arriola, Karina Africa Bolasco, Mariel N. Francisco, Melinda Quintos de Jesus, Rita Ledesma, Elizabeth Lolarga, Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, Chit Roces-Santos and Lorna Kalaw-Tirol (who served as its editor).

Most of the nine women conclude their collection of essays with a personal ode to Gilda, with a watercolor painting offered by Edna Zapanta Manlapaz.

The last pages included photographs of the women through the years as they gathered to inspire and support each other’s journey.

The essays ran the gamut of childhood memories and growing pains, husbands and married life to balancing careers and being wives and mothers, grandmothers or widows.

The women write about life—its riddles and contradictions, the cycles of life and dealing with aging—whether it is about their mortality or that of their parents.

The writings try to capture grief and the anguish of loss—of life and death as well as of inner adventures and what gives meaning to their everyday existence.

They also write about Gilda, and how she has taught them to nurture and delight in their creative impulses.

As noted by one of the book’s reviewers on the back cover—these are refreshing narratives written by women who have reached a certain point in their lives when they don’t need to prove anything, win approval, or compete, but simply to be themselves.

The book is aptly called FirstDraftbecause these pieces are still subject to revision—to do more rewrites as its authors deem necessary.

First drafts are still open to possibilities subject to memories that may still be uncovered, or life that will still be lived.

Get the latest stories from Hawaii Filipino Chronicle straight to your inbox! Subscribe to our FREE newsletter here.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.