Estrella D. Alfon
(1918 - 1983)

Born in Cebu, Alfon set many of her stories in the fictional community of Espeleta, a recognizable lower middle-class district of that city. Though she wrote mostly in English, she also wrote some stories in Cebuano. Of the women writers of the region, she is among the most prominent.

Unable to complete a pre-medical course at the University of the Philippines because of poor health, Alfon instead earned an Associate in Arts certificate. Her first story, “Grey Confetti” (1935), was quickly followed by many others. The only female member of the Veronicans, an avant garde group of writers in the 1930s led by Francisco Arcellana and H.R. Ocampo, she was also regarded as their muse. A regular contributor to Manila-based national magazines, she had several stories cited in Jose Garcia Villa’s annual honor rolls. A collection of her early short stories, “Dear Esmeralda,” won Honorable Mention in the Commonwealth Literary Award of 1940. Seventeen of her stories appear in Magnificence and Other Stories (1960), the only published collection of her short fiction. Of these stories, Francisco Arcellana said, “When I say that these stories are powerful as stories, I mean they are compelling. They are told with urgency. They make you think of the ancient mariner.”

While critics found cause to commend her, a conservative group of Catholics charged Alfon in court with obscenity over one of her short stories, “Fairy Tale for the City,” about a young man’s initiation into sex. Fellow writers were quick to rally around her, claiming her as a martyr to the cause of artistic integrity. The present generation of readers, having dismissed obscenity as a legitimate issue in the critical discussion of literature, prefers to claim her as a writer for the feminist cause. By populating her fictional world largely with women and children, she calls attention to their marginalized roles in Philippine patriarchal society. Though most of her women characters are unable even to recognize themselves as victims, Alfon’s sympathetic portrayals allow for readings subversive of the society that victimizes women.

Reportedly the most prolific Filipino woman writer before the war, Alfon was at times charged with sloppy writing and suspected of writing for money. Undeterred, she continued to write, not just more stories and journalistic pieces, but also plays. In the Arena Theater Play Writing Contest of 1961-62, four of her one-act plays won all the prizes: “Losers Keepers” (first prize), “Strangers” (second prize), “Rice” (third prize), and “Beggar” (fourth prize). That same year she won the top prize in the Palanca Contest for “With Patches of Many Hues.” A posthumous collection, The Collected Stories of Estrella Alfon, was compiled by her long time friend Lina Espina Moore in 1994. Alfon died in 1983, following a heart attack suffered onstage during the Awards night of the Manila Film Festival.

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