José Wendell Capili

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カピリ・ ホセ
José Wendell Capili
Born Manila, Philippines Philippines
Pen name José Wendell Capili
Occupation Professor of creative writing and comparative literature at the College of Arts and Letters,[1] University of the Philippines, Poet, Author
Education University of Santo Tomas, University of the Philippines Diliman, University of Tokyo (東京大学), University of Cambridge, Australian National University

José Wendell Capili (カピリ・ホセ?, José Wendell Capili) is a writer and academic from the Philippines. He earned degrees from the University of Santo Tomas, University of the Philippines Diliman, University of Tokyo (東京大学), University of Cambridge and Australian National University. He is a Professor of creative writing and comparative literature at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines, where he was the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. His creative and scholarly works were published in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia.[2]

Background and writing career[edit]

Despite Capili's lean output, his poems received some critical attention.[3] Says Al Camus Palomar of the University of Oklahoma, "Edith L. Tiempo, Rene Amper, Peter Bacho, Jose Capili, Maria Cariño, and the incomparable Fatima Lim-Wilson are included to remind us all of what reading good poetry, feels like. And read Luis Cabalquinto, Jose Capili, and Ricardo de Ungria carefully. You will be immensely rewarded if you do".[4] A.R.D.S. Bordado said that Capili’s “The Great Australian Landscape” and “Gorilla Bay” show the Filipino sensibility imbibing foreign geography. The latter poem describes the beauty of the bay: “Gastropods on a drift/ conceive enclosures of/ bubbles shimmering forth,/ polished and white among/ rocks, splashing as spring/ time turns supremely aqua/ marine, even less torrential.”[5] Of "Baguio: The Demise", critic Ralph Semino Galan writes how Capili utilizes the aftermath of another disaster, the gutted down remains of the Pines Hotel that burned down in 1984, as one of the objective correlatives (“the turn and flow of stones/ we perceived from childhood/ as walls, doors and ceilings/”) to express the emotional vacuity the personae in his elegiac poem are experiencing years after their major romantic breakup. For Galan, Capili is able to obfuscate the obvious intensity of the emotions that are being stirred by the reunion, for he makes the ex-lovers focus on the physical landscape, rather than the inner turmoil they are feeling in each other’s formerly familiar presence: “the rustle of leaves/ behaving like music,” “the landscape of cones/ falling on mountain sleeves,” “pure hemp and other bell-shaped/ things awakening from/ a sudden gush of the wind”.[6] Of A Madness of Birds (1998), Capili's first book, critic Tito Quiling Jr. writes, "Splattered across its pages are colors such as ceruleans to auburns, and images of falling leaves, cascading water, and stout temple pillars. And spinning in between these are individual’s memories attached to nature’s multifaceted character—from seeing migratory birds returning to their proverbial places to moments illustrating one’s love for his hometown are some of the pieces found in this collection of poems..." [7]

Research career[edit]

In 2001, Capili was commissioned by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (Philippines) to interview National Artist Napoleón Abueva, the "Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture". Capili's interview revealed Abueva's deeper insights about life and art, especially in connection with World War II. Says Abueva: "We sought the remains of our parents from a field of corpses and items belonging to the members of the resistance group. It was painful for me and my siblings to unearth the soiled white shirt with blue stripes, which belonged to my father. We also found a piece of my mother’s dress as well as her rosary. Later, we found my parents’ bodies and we buried them. It was very painful. As an artist, these experiences taught me to see life in a different way. More specifically, I tried my best to look for new ways of expressing ideas as a way of dealing with the pain".[8]

Capili worked on a research project involving Southeast Asian diaspora writers in Australia[9] at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.[10] In 2004, he was one of eighteen postgraduate scholars from universities across Australia and New Zealand chosen by La Trobe University to read papers during the Australian Perspectives Conference held on La Trobe University's main Melbourne Campus at Bundoora.[11] The conference was opened by La Trobe Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Roger Wales, and wrapped-up by Professor of Politics, Robert Manne.[12] In 2005, he was a Visiting Scholar at the National University of Singapore, University of Sydney, Westerly Centre[13][14] of the University of Western Australia;[15] University of Melbourne; and the University of Queensland.[16] These brought about the publication of From the Editors: Migrant Communities and Emerging Australian Literature (2007) and Salu-Salo: In Conversation with Filipinos (2008). In "The Asian conspiracy: deploying voice/deploying story", Merlinda Bobis, winner of the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the 2016 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, writes, "Migrant story-making has clout if it contributes to the narrative of the nation. This framework is discussed by Jose Wendell Capili in his introduction to Salu-Salo...".[17] But critic Michael Jacklin of the University of Wollongong, in The Transnational Turn in Australian Literary Studies, commented that while publications on Southeast Asian diaspora writers and every other cultural group that has settled in Australia could be provided for the transnational dimensions of Vietnamese-Australian, Lao-Australian or Philippine-Australian writing, such work frequently remains undocumented by literature infrastructure. "Literary cultures across Australia will not appreciate works by community-based Southeast Asian diaspora writers", Capili noted.[18] As Jacklin observes, "Cheeseman and Capili’s book is yet to appear in Library Australia’s listings; it does appear in the Blacktown City Libraries catalogue".[19] Similarly, AusLit, the Australian Literature Resource, cited Capili's 'Southeast Asian diaspora writers in Australia and the consequence of community-based initiatives', in which he notes the difficulty of finding an audience for community-based Southeast Asian writers in Australia.[20]

In The Politics of Identity and Mimetic Constructions in the Philippine Transnational Experience, Sharon Orig noted that Capili's early work on displacement and reterritorialization in Philippine expatriate poetry in the United States (1993) "expounds on 'de-territorialization' as a 'displacement,' 'dislocation,' or simply a feeling of 'not being home'".[21] Hope S. Yu, in "Memory, Nostalgia and the Filipino Diaspora in the Works of Two Filipina Writers", added that Capili attributes the migration of many Philippine migrant writers "mainly to the strong influence America has on its 'neo-colony' as well as the inability of the Philippine government to 'provide its citizens with the most basic material necessities: food, clothing, shelter" [22] Capili's interest in migration studies is more evident in Immigrant themes in Japanese-American and Filipino-American poetry (1995)[23] and The Relocalisation of Japanese Immigrants in Davao, Southern Philippines (1996).[24] Arnold Molina Azurin, in The Japanese in our Midst: An Exploratory Analysis of the Experiences of Japanese Migrants/Settlers in the Philippines, and Shun Ohno (大野 俊), in Rethinking Okinawan Diasporas in 'Davaokuo (「ダバオ国」の沖縄人社会再考 -本土日本人、フィリピン人との関係を中心に-),[25] noted how Capili described Japan as dura virum nutrix (a hard nurse of men) due to that country's open and shifting hierarchy. Ultimately, for Azurin, Capili suggests that wealth, not blood, was the greater recipient of position [of privilege], and wealth could be created by (war-making) skill or fraud. "It was a situation where money and contracts, not blood and status, ruled", Capili asserts.[26] Azurin comments: "And then, with direct reference to the dire situation in the early 1900s among the common folk in Japan, he (Capili) suggests that 'Japanese emigrants decided to establish settlements in Davao because…[by his own sweat] a person can move up fairly quickly, certainly within a lifetime'".[27]

The Philippine PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) formally launched the newest publications from writers Jaime An Lim, Jose Wendell Capili, and National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose on Saturday, May 28, 2016 at Solidaridad Bookstore in Ermita, Manila. Launched were An Lim’s The Axolotl Colony: Stories, Capili’s Migrations and Mediations: The Emergence of Southeast Asian Diaspora Writers in Australia, 1972-2007,[28] and Jose’s Selected Stories. All three titles were published by the University of the Philippines Press. Migrations and Mediations is Capili’s doctoral dissertation on Filipino and Southeast Asian...writing in Australia. According to National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, the book is “… remarkable for its steady grasp of a unifying vision encompassing literary production by writers coming from disparate cultures and historical backgrounds, and establishing their significance as a factor in the construction of the contemporary cultural identity of Australia … an important contribution to the narrative of Australia’s cultural history …”[29] Says University of Western Australia Professor Michael Pinches, Migrations and Mediations is “… important and timely: on one hand, identifying and documenting the various factors that have limited, shaped and facilitated the development of Southeast Asian Diaspora writers in Australia; on the other, demonstrating the significant contribution these writers have made to the advancement of multiculturalism in Australia…Capili’s main contribution to the field lies in the way he distinguishes and documents the various programs, institutions, mentors, awards, and communities that have contributed to the growth of Southeast Asian diasporic writing in Australia …” [30]

Commentator of popular culture[edit]

Aside from creative writing and comparative migration studies, Capili also discussed aspects of popular culture in the Philippines. In Originality in the Postcolony: Choreographing the Neoethnic Body of Philippine Ballet, critic Sally A. Ness of the University of California, Riverside noted how Capili identified Agnes Locsin's neoethnic choreographies as a prestigious and technically effective site for what Locsin calls "Filipinization", and on more than one level "the state of the art" in an internationally oriented project of cultural nationalism. Says Ness: "Capili recognized this function of Locsin's work, when Ms. Locsin's neoethnic ballet Babalyan was awarded the prestigious Prince Norihito Takamado Award from Japan's Imperial Family in 1994. 'Once and for all', Capili wrote, in a feature article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 'Locsin asserted the fact that we are not a nation of domestics and prostitutes'.[31]

In Who's Afraid of The Kayumanggi?,[32] Stephanie Dychiu implied that openness to a non-white paradigm[33] can be attributed to what Capili described as key incidents in history: "The emergence of the African-American and Asian-American movement; the liberation of colonized countries in Asia and Africa after World War II; the emergence of non-white artists in mainstream cultures, as exemplified by the domination of Motown music during the 1960s and 1970s; the emergence of colored supermodels like Anna Bayle, Naomi Campbell, and others—these are circumstances that were not there before World War II…"[34]

In Barry Cyrus Viloria's Brand X, Brand Y, Brand RP, Capili reacts to the sudden rise of "branded nationalism" (e.g., Philippine map sewn on commercially produced shirts): "self-expression can be achieved in many ways [and these] clothes can be very strong statements". Entrepreneurs behind this "branding" may have the most immaculate intentions. If they, Capili adds, have made sure that these "emblems and colors are utilized to achieve a particular effect on citizens," then they’re moving towards nationalistic. Unfortunately, when mass production and free market saw an opportunity, the event became a fad.[35]

Following widespread public outrage over Miss Universe 2010 runner-up Venus Raj's response to actor William Baldwin's question during the pageant's live telecast,[36] broadcast journalist Mario Dumaual of ABS-CBN's TV Patrol reported that for Capili and Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz,[37] Philippine delegates should be allowed to speak in their native tongue.[38] Says Capili: "Filipinos should speak in the language they are comfortable with…(Raj) should've been allowed to speak in Bicol, but not because she's unintelligent or incapable of speaking in English. Look at Miss Mexico. She can speak in English but she had an interpreter for the question and answer portion. She had an opportunity to think about her answer twice or thrice".[39]

In an interview with Sam L. Marcelo of BusinessWorld during the 60th Palanca Awards (2010), Capili also commented on the propensity of young Filipino writers to challenge form. For Capili, the aesthetics of the present generation are different owing to the influence of the Internet. Whereas writers in the old days emphasized formalism, writers today draw strength from mainstream literary tradition as well as indigenous and emerging or experimental culture.[40]

In Fritz Rodriguez's "Filipino fascination with Japan goes beyond 'kawaii'", Capili explained that Japanese pop culture gained much popularity in the Philippines in the 1970s due to the abundance of amusement centers featuring videogames and anime shows like Voltes V and Mazinger Z. For Capili, Japanese pop culture goes beyond anime and videogames. “It is a conglomeration of Japan's residual, dominant and emergent values, issues and concerns as reflected in their music, films, television, sports and other disciplines.”[41]

Spanish novelist and screenwriter Ignacio Martinez de Pison's La Filipinas de Amparo Muñoz (The Philippines of Amparo Muñoz, 2011), published in El País, referred to Capili's third book, Mabuhay to Beauty (2003), as a starting point to help explain the iconic nature of beauty pageants and luminaries like Miss Universe 1974 Amparo Muñoz in the Philippines.[42]

In an interview with Ben Sim of South China Morning Post, Capili defended the emergence of K-pop, which can be traced to South Korea's economic collapse in 1998. "Critics may say K-pop stars are manufactured or they're all based on looks, but those accusations have been thrown at some of the greatest figures in pop music, from Elvis Presley to The Beatles," says Capili.[43]

Capili also responded to queries about the popularity of beauty pageant winners in the Philippines. In an interview with the BBC, Capili says that pageants were brought to the country by the American colonial government in the first half of the 20th Century. "In the old days, an untrained candidate may end up winning a title either because she is a great beauty or is someone from a pedigreed family," he said. "These days, there are talent scouts and modelling agencies who actually train some of the girls, months, even years, before the national competition...For the candidates, pageants can be a stepping stone for upward social or economic mobility."[44] The recent successes of Philippine candidates in international competitions have heightened interest even further.

Reacting to the crowning of Filipina Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach as Miss Universe at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on December 20, 2015, Capili tells Channel NewsAsia, "There is a kind of fantasy involved because the majority of Filipinos are living below the poverty line and it can be inspirational that somebody like Manny Pacquiao or beauty queens who win international competitions become a role model for many who come from a difficult financial background".[45]

Capili adds, "these Miss Universe crowns encouraged many young Filipino women to dream of becoming a beauty queen. For some, the celebrity status that comes with winning a pageant meant better opportunities for the candidate and her family". [46]

Capili added that the victories of beauty queens such as Gemma Cruz (Miss International), Aurora Pijuan (Miss International), Gloria Diaz (Miss Universe) and Margie Moran (Miss Universe) were followed by long parades from the airport to Malacañang with streets filled with adoring fans. Pageants become rooted in the national consciousness because government officials also encouraged mounting them in barangays, provinces and regions. [47]

There are beauty contests run like lurid sex shows, Capili says, in an interview with The Strait Times. But generally, pageants, especially marquee ones like Miss Universe, Miss World and Miss International, have provided Filipino women a doorway to instant fame and, with it, opportunities for a better life. "Many past winners have moved on to become actors, doctors, lawyers, businesswomen and politicians...A beauty queen in the Philippines is revered as exactly that: a queen", Capili said. [48]

Literary festivals and conferences[edit]

Capili's works were read and featured during the British Council Seminar on Contemporary Literature[49] (Downing College, University of Cambridge, 2000), the Hong Kong International Literary Festival (University of Hong Kong, 2000),[50] the Sydney Writers' Festival[51] (2007,[52] 2008[53]) and the 76th International PEN Congress[54] (Tokyo, Japan, 2010), where Capili also discussed the emigration of Southeast Asian writers to Australia ("東南アジアに近いために、オーストラリアに移住する人が増えている。移住した作家たちは、オーストラリアで受け入れられた。そこでさまざまな活動に参加している。 私たちは文化の多様性を持っている、と自覚することができる。").[55]


In 2008, Capili became Nestle Philippines' Laki sa Gatas[56] advocate for Bear Brand Milk.[57] He joined the product's other television, radio and print campaign endorsers, Batangas Governor and actress Vilma Santos, Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, Miss International 2006 Precious Lara Quigaman, actor Marvin Agustin, singer Regine Velasquez, comedian Michael V. and actress Eugene Domingo. Says BusinessWorld columnist Nanette Franco-Diyco, "With all these very well-chosen endorsers partnering with Nestlé in this much-needed educational campaign targeted at the D and E socioeconomic groups, important health benefits may indeed be obtainable".[58]

In 2010, after newly posted Chilean Ambassador to the Philippines Dr. Roberto Mayorga launched "Chile: Odes from the Philippines-A Poetry Contest for Filipino Students" to commemorate the Bicentenary of Independence of the Republic of Chile, and to celebrate the rescue of 33 Chileans in San Jose Mines, Capili says, "it's a way for Filipino students to connect with Chile…Chile may be geographically remote, but the situation of the miners is not far from our OFWs (overseas foreign workers)." For Capili, poetry may capture a limited number of people, but these are people who can preserve the memories and the close ties, adding that it is a way of nurturing cultural literacy.[59]

During the 150th Rizal Anniversary Conference on Nation and Culture (2011) convened by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose and Senator Edgardo Angara at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Capili pointed out that funding aside, the biggest problem of establishing a Department of Culture in the Philippines was one of leadership. "Who’s going to head it?", Capili asked.[60]

While promoting the Philippines as a university destination to secondary students in Hong Kong, Capili commented that courses in top Philippines universities, especially in the arts and social sciences, enable students to be more creative by thinking "outside the box". At the University of the Philippines, "students and faculty members enjoy academic freedom, which is not (being) underscored in many schools and universities in the region,” Capili added.[61]

The budget of Philippine state colleges and universities (SUCs) has been cut due to the dwindling national government budget. Capili reacted to suggestions that SUCs should look for other sources of income externally, like leasing land and other services to private companies, or selling products and technology. Capili stressed, "it is not the mandate of the university to make money. Our job is to educate and train students." Capili added that SUCs should not spend so much time and energy raising funds, so he is appealing to the government to prioritize education.[62]

Other activities[edit]

Aside from teaching and writing, Capili also works as a university administrator. The Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines approved the appointment of Capili as Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs[63] He was also the Director of the UP System Information Office (2009–2011) [64] and Director of the UP Office of Alumni Relations (2011-2017).[65]



A Madness of Birds, (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1998)


Bloom and Memory, (Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2002)

Popular culture[edit]

(as editor) Mabuhay to Beauty!, (Quezon City: Milflores Publishing, 2003)


(as editor) From the Editors: Migrant Communities and Emerging Australian Literature, (Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia: Casula Powerhouse, 2007)

(as co-editor, with John Cheeseman) Salu-Salo: In Conversation with Filipinos, (Blacktown and Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia: Blacktown Arts Centre and Casula Powerhouse, 2008)


(translated and edited with John Jack Wigley) Lupito and the Circus Village (translation of Si Lupito at ang Barrio Sirkero written by Rowald Almazar, artworks by Jose Santos III), (Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2008)

Literary History[edit]

Migrations and Mediations: The Emergence of Southeast Asian Diaspora Writers in Australia, 1972-2007, (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2016)

Honors and awards[edit]


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External links[edit]