Award-winning Bisaya writer Avenido on ‘Ikigai,’ aliens and the OFW life

Award-winning Bisaya writer Avenido on ‘Ikigai,’ aliens and the OFW life

Writers who are already highly skilled at their craft but continually seek to explore new forms of writing are a rare and admirable breed. They inspire others to break free from the constraints of convention, challenging the boundaries of what can be achieved with the written word.

Just like Manu Avenido, a Cebuano writer based in Japan with roots in Bohol, who possesses an insatiable thirst for the evolution and refinement of his craft. The recent release of his flagship book, titled “Ikigai Ug Ubang Piniling Mga Sugilanon,” adds yet another first-of-its-kind and enduring addition to the already abundant treasury of Cebuano literature.

Manu, a distinguished 2017 Palanca Award recipient, has discovered a profound calling in crafting story collections. His recent literary release then marks the culmination of a wonderful five-year journey since he embarked on this path.

“The goal was to publish 13 stories, a baker’s dozen so-to-speak, for my maiden book. The list of my Cebuano pieces would have been nearly complete if I included my early works set in the countryside, particularly in Bohol, depicting pastoral ways of life. These were conventional pieces that had appeared in Bisaya Magazine as my little contribution to the wealthy repository of Cebuano fiction. But I decided not to include them,” said Manu.


His fervent desire to achieve something “unprecedented” within his writing niche and elevate it to new heights remained resolute. This determination gave birth to innovative concepts, such as speculative prehistoric fiction and the merging of diverse literary genres, as he sought to challenge conventional writing norms.

But for reasons beyond his control, the journey to publish 13 stories was halted in 2017. The year after that, he moved to Japan to work as an English teacher. The detours of his life would then become a shaping factor of his creativity, contributing to the depth and authenticity of his storytelling.

“The story ‘Ikigai,’ which I consider the heart of this book, was among the quickest for me to finish writing even if the topic was probably the most difficult and harrowing to deal with. It talks about mental health and depression, struggles in the life of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), and yes, suicide,” said Manu.


“Ikigai” represents a departure from his usual realist stories, which were equally cherished by readers in Cebu, as it marks his initial debut into the realm of surrealism. It encapsulates a significant creative shift, allowing him to explore new dimensions of storytelling beyond his familiar literary boundaries.

According to the writer, similar to “Ikigai,” stories like “Elyen” and “Ang Babaye Sa Pikas Lawak”—whose female first-person point of view is an OFW—and “Limbo,” whose male narrator is a former OFW, are reflections of his current milieu as a migrant worker in Japan. The narrative in “Elyen,” a coalescence between realist and speculative modes, spans a century and traverses from the Philippines, specifically Bohol, to New Zealand and Australia, and goes beyond outer space.

“On this note, maybe I can consider myself a writer from the diaspora, someone who is physically away from my homeland and writes stories that, in the words of Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu, ‘help us to understand the outcomes of passage, the investments in finding a new home, and the expectations of returning to the homeland,’” expressed Manu.


Relocating to Japan posed a significant challenge for a writer deeply rooted in his origins. He expressed his love for his heritage through publications such as “The Bohol We Love” and stories set in the local context of Cebu, like “Sa Lalaking Naligsan sa may Interseksiyon,” which vividly placed action amid the bustling N. Bacalso Avenue in Cebu City.

Despite these attachments, he embraced change and summoned the courage to reignite his passion for writing, realizing it to its fullest potential once again.

“Looking back at my journey as a Cebuano fiction writer—from the very first realist story to the most recent surrealist piece I have written—change indeed is the only constant thing in life, or to aptly put it, in the noble art of writing. Just like in the case of any other artists, this change is mostly necessitated by the material, psychological and emotional spaces that creative writers are in, encompassing their sociocultural realities—their struggles, frustrations, aspirations and all other experiences fundamental for their human existence,” said Manu.


Manu, whose heart brims with gratitude, acknowledges that his book wouldn’t have come to fruition without the contributions of various groups and individuals. He reserves his deepest thanks for Marjorie Evasco, who provided years of encouragement and translated his works into English, expanding their reach to a wider readership.

“In my case, I have only just begun my voyage, and I am aware that the course in search of a fertile island stretches beyond the horizon. My book ‘Ikigai Ug Ubang Piniling Mga Sugilanon’ is my flagship, and onboard are the 13 short stories that I wish to ship across the vast ocean of Cebuano literature,” Manu said.

“Certainly, there is the danger of encountering tumultuous waves and violent storms at some point, or the risk of losing my direction. But my faith in my own craft and my fervid aspiration to push the boundaries of my own writing are the guiding principles that will keep me going towards a point of arrival.”


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