In 1929, José García Villa (VEE-yah) edited the first comprehensive anthology of Filipino short stories in English, for the Philippines Free Press. The earliest published volume of his own work was also a collection of stories, Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others, released by Scribner’s in 1933. Many of these tales had appeared earlier in Clay, the mimeographed literary magazine which he founded at the University of New Mexico and which first drew the attention of Edward O’Brien. The Best American Short Stories of 1932, in fact, was dedicated to Villa by O’Brien, whose introduction included Villa “among the half-dozen short story writers in America who count” and compared him with one of O’Brien’s earlier discoveries, Sherwood Anderson. Even as O’Brien was prophesying a career for Villa as novelist, however, the young writer had already turned his attention exclusively to poetry. The stories, therefore, retain their interest chiefly as preliminaries to attitudes and techniques associated with Villa’s poems.
A third of the twenty-one stories in Footnote to Youth are semiautobiographical portraits of a hermit protagonist suffering self-imposed isolation in the Philippines, New Mexico, and New York City. There is a repetitive pattern of rejected illegitimate children, either unwanted or inadequately cared for; of antagonism between fathers and grown sons; of the protagonist’s alienation from those with whom he is, only temporarily, most intimate; of a love-hate identification with José Rizal, martyred hero of the 1896 Revolution, as a father-image whose own paternity is clouded; of rejection in courtship and marriage; and of self-importance recovered through sentimentalized identification with the suffering Christ, the god mocked and misunderstood.
This sense of recoil from hurt was conveyed in Villa’s stories principally through antinarrative devices. In some cases, the paragraphs are numbered and condensed, so that typographically they resemble stanzas in a poem. Also, incident is not allowed to flow into incident. O’Brien wrote of Villa’s combining “a native sensuousness of perception and impression” with the “traditionally Spanish expression of passionate feeling in classical reticence of form.” More likely, however, the compartmentalization of the narrative indicates the aftermath of a series of unhappy encounters between a sensitive personality and an insensitive world unprepared to give him the recognition he deserves. The stories dazzle with color, their principal emotion being intensely lyrical.