It was her husband, a former Peace Corps Volunteer to Leyte (Lauren R. Brainard) who, upon noting that Cecilia wrote in her journal every night, gifted her with a then-innovative electric typewriter. Encouraged to take her writing more seriously, Cecilia arranged to write a bi-monthly column in Philippine American News, personal essays, which she later compiled in a book called Philippine Woman in America. She also enrolled in creative writing classes at the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension. While taking care of her family (husband and three sons) Cecilia pursued her writing and started to get her short stories published.
It was Filipino American writer Bienvenido N. Santos who introduced her to the publisher, Mrs. Gloria Rodriguez, who went on to publish several of Cecilia’s books: collection of short stories (Woman with Horns and Other Stories), first novel (Song of Yvonne), collection of essays (Philippine Woman in America), and her first edited collection of short stories (Fiction by Filipinos in America.)
Song of Yvonne, which is a coming of age story of a young girl named Yvonne during World War II, was later published by E.P. Dutton/Penguin of New York under the title When the Rainbow Goddess Wept in hard cover and soft cover editions (1994, 1995). In 1999, the University of Michigan Press picked up When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, and it remains in print. A Turkish edition of this novel was also published— Gokkusagi Tanricasi Agladigunda — by Bilge Kultur Sanat and translated by Fusun Talay in 2001.
Her second novel, Magdalena, written in the fragmented style, is about three Filipino women whose lives have been affected by three wars in the Philippines – Philippine-American War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Susan Bright, poet and publisher of Plain View Press in Texas fell in love with it and published it in 2002. A favorite among feminists, poets, and academics, Magdalena was reprinted by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House in the Philippines in 2016.
In 2017, her third novel, The Newspaper Widow, was published by Jack Wigley of the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. This literary mystery was inspired by Cecilia’s great-grandmother who was reportedly the first woman publisher of the Philippines. The novel was shortlisted in the Cirilo Bautista Prize for the Novel and the 37th National Book Awards of the Philippines.
Other Literary Work
Responding to the needs of her Filipino and Filipino American communities, Cecilia edited fiction and nonfiction collections, including Fiction by Filipinos in America, Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, and Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults.
Cecilia has taught at the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension, UCLA, USC, and the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA). She continues to lecture and perform in literary arts venues such as Shakespeare and Company in Paris, Culture Rapide in Paris, Beyond Baroque, PEN, Coming Together in Skokie Illinois, Second Literary Symposium in Jackson Tennessee, Filipino American International Book Festivals, Cebu Literary Festivals, and many Philippine and US universities.
As a former Executive Board Member of the writers’ group PEN, she represented PEN USA West in International meetings in Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela. She served as an officer in such groups as the Midnight Special Cultural Center, PAAWWW (Pacific Asian American Women Writers West), and the Arts & Letters at the Cal State University, LA.
Cecilia co-founded PAWWA (Philippine American Women Writers and Artists) a support group that received funding by the California Arts Council. She founded and runs PALH (Philippine American Literary House) a small publishing house of fine Philippine American books. She is an active member of the Philippine and Philippine American literary communities.
For her work, Cecilia has received many awards, including a California Arts Council Fellowship, a Brody Arts Fund Fellowship, an Outstanding Individual Award from Cebu, an Amazing Alumuni Achiever’s Award from Maryknoll College, several travel grants from the USIS, a City of Los Angeles Cultural Grant, a Special Recognition Award from the Los Angeles Board of Education for her work dealing with Asian American youths, and many more.
She continues her literary work and travels regularly to the Philippines and other parts of the world when she can.