José Garcia Villa was born in Manila in the Philippines in 1908, a grew up the son of a physician who participated actively in the Revolution of the late 19th century against the Spanish domination of the Philippines. The father, who with the Revolution’s collapse, had become what writer Nick Joaquin has described as “a grim, silent man,” disapproved of his son’s artistic activities. The young Villa grew more and more interested in painting and, as he began medical studies at the University of the Philippines, in writing. As a sophomore in the university, Villa wrote a collection of sexual lyrics, Man Songs, that were so controversial—and successful—that he was expelled from the university for obscenity. An award from the Free Press, however, allowed him to leave home; he emigrated to the United States, studying first at the University of New Mexico, where he edited an avant-garde publication, Clay.
Villa soon moved on to New York City, where he attended Columbia University, and where, except for a brief return to the Philippines in 1937, he would remain for the rest of his life.
In 1933 he published a collection of short stories, Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others. But it was only in 1942, with the publication of his second poetry collection, Have Come, Here Am by Viking Press, that he gained international notoriety. By that time the Philippines, involved in World War II, was basically isolated from the world, and Filipinos discovered this publication only after liberation. Honors and fellowships soon followed, including a Guggenheim grant, the Bollingen Prize, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Dame Edith Sitwell had taken up his cause and recommended him as “A poet with a great, even an astonishing, and perfectly original gift.” Villa also corresponded with and ultimately met regularly with the poet E. E. Cummings.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Have Many Voices (Manila. Philippine Book Guild, 1939); Poems by Doveglion (Manila: Philippine Writers’ League, 1941); Have Come, Am Here (New York: Viking, 1942); Volume Two (New York: New Directions, 1949); Selected Poems and New (New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1948; 2nd edition: Manila: Bookmark, 1993); Appassionata: Poems in Praise of Love (New York: King and Cowen, 1979); The Anchored Angel: Selected Writings (New York: Kaya, 1999).