Ricky Lee, National Artist for Literature

Congratulations to mentor/teacher, screenwriter, journalist, novelist, and playwright, Ricardo “Ricky” Lee on being conferred the Order of National Artists (ONA), together with seven other distinguished Filipino artists from various disciplines.

His extensive body of work, spanning over four decades, include short stories, plays, essays, novels, teleplays, and screenplays. Two of his short stories won first prizes at the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (1970 and 1971). His screenplay “Salome/Brutal” won the 1981 Philippine National Book Awards for best screenplay. In 2011, he was awarded the Manila Critics Circle Special Prize for a Book Published by an Independent Publisher. His two-stage plays Pitik-Bulag sa Buwan ng Pebrero and DH (Domestic Helper) played to SRO crowds. DH, starring Nora Aunor, has toured the US and Europe in 1993.

However, Ricky Lee is best known for being a script writer. In fact he is the Philippines’ greatest and most prolific screenwriter, having written almost 200 screenplays, including classics such as “Brutal” (1980) and “Karnal” (1983), both directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya; “Himala” (1982), by Ishmael Bernal; “Macho Dancer” (1988), by Lino Brocka; and “José Rizal” (1998), again, by Diaz-Abaya.

On top of all that, he is also the author of the definitive screenplay manual, Trip to Quiapo which distilled all the knowledge and wisdom he had amassed over the decades.

It was truly a great privilege for me to have been one of his students at Cinemalaya’s Ricky Lee Script Writing Workshop last year (Batch 29). Sir Ricky was truly one of the best literature teachers I have ever had — particularly with how he emphasized how characters and character development was the most important part of weaving any story. Being primarily a science fiction writer, it was especially important for me to be reminded that people followed stories for their characters rather than for the plot, regardless of how fantastical or technologically awesome the latter may be.

One of the things that most stuck to me was: “Lahat ng kahon ay oportunidad para mapilitan kang gumawa ng butas upang makalabas.” To (poorly) translate and paraphrase: “All the things that keep your character in a box are opportunities for them to escape (and further the plot).”

Both his book and his lectures some everything up with the idea of the writer as active participant, not only in his work but in the world outside it. As a recent article by Jerome Gomez of ABS-CBN puts it: “In Ricky Lee’s universe, everyone is a writer because we all have the power to reverse fortunes, change the course of history, by touching other people’s lives in ways big or small.”

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