By MARK JOSEPH B. FERNANDEZ and JULIA MARI T. ORNEDO
HIS NAME had probably popped up on your Facebook feed at least once. Joselito Delos Reyes’ posts are hard to scroll past as they often contain witty jokes, nuggets of wisdom, or heartwarming stories about his family, which had easily earned him over 16,000 followers on the platform.
Contrary to what his profile indicates, however, Delos Reyes does not work at “E di sa poso mo, beyb,” nor does he teach “rihgt and ferpect grammers.” When he is not online, the Department of Literature chairperson is either shaping the minds of young writers or crafting another literary piece to add to his award-winning body of work.
Kindling lifelong passions
Before venturing into the vast world of literature, Delos Reyes was first an avid reader and a self-taught comedian. His interest in both literature and humor developed during his high school years.
Seated on his office desk with his dimpled smile never leaving his face, Delos Reyes recalls how reading the works of literary giants such as F. Sionil Jose and Carlos Bulosan emboldened him to begin writing his own masterpieces.
“‘Pag mahilig kang magbasa, may nare-rekindle kang fantasy of becoming a writer,” he explains. “So, [nasasabi ko na] ‘Niloloko ako nito, napapaiyak ako nito, na-e-emo ako sa mga binabasa ko. Hindi pupwedeng ako lang. Dapat magsulat din ako. Gusto kong magsulat din, gusto ko ring makapagpabago.’”
The Literature professor shares that his interest in humor, on the other hand, was piqued by his cousin, whose impeccable sense of humor that could command the attention of a room compensated for his lack of good looks.
“[‘P]ag nagsalita siya, makikinig kayo. Makikinig kayo sa kanya kasi ang lakas-lakas noong kanyang sense of humor. So [kapag] tinitingnan ko ‘yung pinsan ko, [sabi ko] ‘Gagayahin ko ‘to,’” he recounts.
He then began to study humor intensively, devouring one joke book after another until he knew hundreds of wisecracks by heart. In no time, he graduated from joke book humor to contextual jokes which would later on become his trademark as a writer.
What started out as mere curiosities for the young Jowie eventually evolved into lifelong passions. He continued penning literary works at his own pleasure, occasionally injecting them with humor, not knowing that these would lead him to another pursuit.
Exploring different avenues
Aside from being an aspiring litterateur who dreamt of becoming the Filipino Bill Bryson—a humor creative non-fiction writer whom he idolized—Delos Reyes also took up Secondary Education in Social Science at the Philippine Normal University.
However, he realized that teaching was not the career he wanted to pursue when he finally obtained his degree after eight years.
He instead tried jobs not related to his degree: he worked as a project manager in an information technology (IT) company, as a training officer in a money remittance firm, and even as an employee under a local government unit.
“[H]angga’t maaari ayokong magturo kasi feeling ko wala akong tiyaga. Nakikita ko ‘yung asawa ko na teacher, parang ‘di ko kaya [pantayan], parang napakagaling niya,” he said. “She was dearly loved by her students. So sabi ko, ‘Kung ako magiging [isang] mediocre teacher as compared to my wife, tigilan na natin ‘to.’”
Responding to the call
Delos Reyes’ endeavors outside the world of the academe did not last long. Just as he was about to get regularized in the IT company, he fell into a sickness that forced him to take a month-long leave from work. At this point, his wife Angela took the wheel and steered the literary writer’s career to the right course. “Baka kailangan mo nang magturo,’” he recalls his wife saying.
Despite having a stable job as an educator, Delos Reyes still wrote poems out of his “sheer passion for writing,” a habit which he still brought with him when he transferred to University of Santo Tomas to teach literature.
After almost eight years of teaching in the University, the professor admits it has become harder in this age of social media to nurture future literary artists, especially students who are only taking up literature courses as a minor requisite.
“Wala nang nagbabasa. […] Kaya ang sa’kin, [importanteng] makakuha pa ng mambabasa sa mga estudyante ko,” he stresses. “Kasama na rin siguro sa style [of teaching] ko ‘yung pag-alam sa language ng students. Bago talaga ako magturo, inaaral ko ‘yang mga ‘yan. [M]ag-aral ka kasi it’s a way to connect with your students.”
Exploring new paths
As the Department of Literature gears up for the debut of the AB Creative Writing program in the academic year 2018 to 2019, Delos Reyes expresses his confidence in the faculty’s ability to teach future creative writing students.
“I’m looking forward sa new program na i-o-offer ng Faculty, and I hope we can deliver as a department. Maraming challenges ahead, kasi ganito ‘yan: kapag nagturo ka ng creative writing dapat hindi lang academic, dapat may outlet ka rin,” he explains.
Hopeful about the valuable teachings the program will instill to the students, Delos Reyes is pumped to relearn the courses he will need to teach next academic year, like an amateur writer trying to find his niche in literary arts.
“Dapat may sense of social responsibility na ‘yung mga students, ‘yung tipong aid sa society ‘yung mga isusulat din nila. It should affect the people and the society. Hindi lang dapat tayo magaling na makata, dapat magaling din tayo makipagkapwa tao,” he muses before he returns to the pile of papers on his desk. F