The art and life of Tita Lacambra Ayala

Tita Lacambra Ayala, a nationally celebrated poet, writer, and multimedia artist who dedicated her life to the cultivation of literary and visual arts in Mindanao, passed away near her home in Davao City on January 9, 2019. She was 88.

Born Marciana Agcaoili in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, she grew up in Benguet, Antamok. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Education in English, with a minor in History, at the University of the Philippines in 1953, where she met her husband, the late Jose Ayala, a highly regarded artist and writer.

Ayala was a mentor for women artists of her generation, and asserted her need to write while raising a family with six children. She had often spoken about keeping a typewriter next to the kitchen, so that she could put down a few words while stirring a pot. She published many books of poetry in her distinguished career, including Sunflower Poems and Camels and Shapes of Darkness in a Time of Olives; as well as prose, including The Confessions of a Professional Amateur and Pieces of String and Other Stories.

Her work was recognized by numerous awards, including Palanca Awards for the short story “Everything” (1967), and the poem “A Filigree of Seasons” (1977). Her most recent book of poetry, Tala Mundi (2012), received a National Book Award for Poetry and a Philippine Literary Arts Council Prize, as well as Philippine Free Press, Focus and Graphic awards.

Ayala was also conferred the Fr. Theodore Daigler Award for Mindanao Culture for expanding Davao literature through her writing and for nurturing promising writers—then and now. Through her brainchild publication, The Road Map Series, founded in 1981, she created a platform for emerging writers to publish their works alongside more established writers.

She is survived by her daughters, Cynthia Alexander, Monica Ayala, and Laura Elizaga; sons Jose (Joey) Ayala and Fernando (Pido) Ayala, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her second son, David, passed away several years ago.

In a touching eulogy by Vida Maya Ko – Rodriguez, one of the grandchildren, Tita was described as a loving Lola whose love of words and music somehow shaped and fueled her grandchildren’s passions and creativity as they grew up.

My sister and I would wake up every day to classical music blaring so loudly on Lola’s cassette player. That was our alarm clock telling us it was time for breakfast she herself prepared. I knew classical melodies by heart without necessarily knowing what they were called. I learned to read and write with Lola by my side. I started writing at such a young age — since kindergarten, I remember I was already writing poems.  Lola embraced her weirdness, which is I guess why I also learned to embrace my own. I learned so much from Lola, she has imbued on me not just wisdom, but silliness. I know she has touched the lives of so many people in so many ways, that I’m actually excited to hear more about her, as I know she is listening to us with her ears from heaven.”

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