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Nick Carbó (born 1964[1]) is a Filipino-American writer from Legazpi, Albay, Philippines. Carbó writes poetry, essays, and edits magazines and anthologies. He is primarily known for his book of poetry titled Secret Asian Man, which won the Asian American Writers Workshop’s Readers Choice Award.[2]

Nick Carbó
Born1964 (age 54–55)
Legazpi, Albay, Philippines
ResidenceManila, Philippines
NationalityFilipino-American, España
OccupationPoet, Professor
Spouse(s)Margarita Elizalde Carbó

Carbó spent the majority of his career developing Filipino-American literature as a genre and is credited by scholars such as Elisabetta Marino as playing an instrumental role in its modern conception.[1] Through his anthologies Returning a Borrowed Tongue, Babaylan, and Pinoy Poetics, he consolidates both Filipino and Filipino-American experiences.[3]

Life and careerEdit

Early lifeEdit

Carbó was born in Legazpi City, where he and his younger sister Maribri were adopted by Sophie and Alfonso Carbó. At age 7, the family moved from their large home in Bicol to Makati, Metro Manila.[4] He attended the International School of Manila for Grades 2-12, putting him in direct contact with Filipino, American, and international elite. Carbó has stated that some of his early poems, such as "Civilizing the Filipino," stem from his experiences with the injustice of white administrators.[3] As the capital city of the Philippines, Manila's close ties with America resulted in a heavy saturation of the American pop culture which dominated his childhood. The movie and story of South Pacific particularly resonated with him, as the family dynamic of the French plantation owner and his two children in the movie resembled his own.[4] Carbó also enjoyed local Tagalog TV shows such as Uncle Bob's Lucky Seven Club.[4]

His father was a major influence in Carbó's decision to become a writer and poet.[3] Carbó's father was well connected to Philippine literature, as he was college friends with Philippine literary giant Raphael Zulueta y da Costa, whose book Like the Molave and Other Poems won the Commonwealth Literary Prize in 1940.[3] His father often interrupted his television time to review classic literature and read poetry.[3] Between ages 7 and 8, Carbó's father would ask him to recite Philippine national hero José Rizal's "Mi Ultimo Adios" at large dinner parties,[3] instilling an interest in classic literature in Carbó.

Carbó moved to the United States to attend Bennington College,[5] and began to write poetry that Carbó calls "silly love poetry that rhymes a lot."[1] He graduated from St. Mary's University and joined the Pecan Grove Poets, which would go on to become the Pecan Grove Press.

Carbó married fellow American poet Denise Duhamel on August 22, 1992, at the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. Both worked for anti-censorship causes as a result of having their works banned. In 2008, the couple divorced.[6]

Works and receptionEdit

Literary reviewers such as Vince Gotera[7] and contemporaries such as M. Evelina Galang[3] have called Carbó's poetry witty, humorous, and avant-garde. Gotera has also described his work as balancing cynical satire with poignant humor while addressing American erasures of Asian history.[7] The most clear example, according to Gotera, is Carbó's Secret Asian Man, as the book's premise is mishearing the lyrics in Johnny Rivers's 60s hit "Secret Agent Man" as 'secret Asian man.'[7] The poetry's protagonist is named after Carbó himself and comments on New York pop culture through a Filipino-American lens.[7] The book itself is written in verse, and the character Orpheus acknowledges his status of being a character of Carbó's first book, El Grupo McDonald's.[3] The unconventional approach to narrative in Secret Asian Man became staple to Carbó's style.[7]

His work in collecting Filipino-American poetry into anthologies has set foundation for a Filipino-American literary culture to build off the rudimentary literary tradition of its mother country.[1] There are not strong fundamentals for a literary tradition in the Philippines; in his 1961 lecture at Yale University "Philippine Literature: A Two-Fold Renaissance", Miguel Bernad contended that Philippine literature as an "inchoate literature of many languages." [8] With 175 indigenous languages[9] and both Spanish and American imperialism giving them new languages, Philippine authors split their readerships when choosing which language to write in. Carbó's conscious decision to amass Filipino-American writers into his anthology Returning A Borrowed Tongue intended to base Filipino-American literature in the English language to keep their audience whole, which literary critics such as Al Camus Palomar appreciate. The anthology includes poetry that recounts symbols of Filipino and Filipino-American life, such as jeepneys and cuisine, and use them as vehicles to convey the issues of their united identity.[10] Palomar comments that the poets, who range from the early 1900s to 1990, are masters of English nuance and idioms and the volume as a whole being a stylish testament to Filipino poetry.[10] Not all reviewers appreciated the focus on English, however; Roger J. Jiang Bresnahan opposed the decision, claiming it bred disunity by ignoring their common Philippine culture.[8]


Carbó's efforts to create both a Filipino and Filipino-American literary genre has, according to Marino, established him as a major influence among his peers. He describes his first two books of poetry, El Grupo McDonald's and Secret Asian Man as "collective biographies,"[1] sharing the experiences of Filipinos other than him. Carbó often alludes to older Filipino works, his stories often contain historical figures,[1] continuing the literary tradition F. Sionil José established in Dusk by depicting the famous Apolinario Mabini in the novel. In an interview with El Ghibli's Elisabetta Marino, Carbó claimed "the necessity of publishing more Filipino-related material for a world where there was no previous representation takes over the creative impulse."[1] Carbó, alongside his poetry, began editing anthologies to group his contemporaries into the Filipino-American genre.

In his introduction to the anthology Babaylan, Carbó establishes discourse on Filipina identity, citing Spanish and American colonialism to be the cause of the Filipinas' disconnect to identity.[11] His introduction serves as an unbiased account of the Philippine colonial history, and the role Spaniards and Americans played in the creation of Philippine culture and identity. His contemporary colleague Eileen Tabios's introduction serves as an artist's take on history, starkly contrasting Carbó's with her inclusion of emotion and experience as a Filipina.[11] The verse and prose celebrate the Filipina and their struggle, and Carbó uses Babaylan to establish Filipino-American literary tradition further.

Published worksEdit


  • Running Amok (1992)
  • El Grupo McDonald's (1995)
  • Secret Asian Man (2000)[7]
  • Andalusian Dawn (2004)
  • Chinese, Japanese, What are These? (2009)

Anthologies (editor)Edit

  • Returning A Borrowed Tongue (1995)[8][10]
  • Babaylan (2000)[11]
  • Pinoy Poetics (2004)



  • Readers Choice Award from the Asian American Writers Workshop (2001)[2]
  • Calatagan Literary Award from the Philippine American Writers & Artists, Inc. (2005)


  • National Endowment for the Arts (1997)
  • New York Foundation for the Arts (1999)


  • Authors League Fund (2017)
  • PEN America Writers Emergency Fund (2018)


  • Le Chateau de Lavigny Maison d’ Ecrivain (1998, Switzerland)
  • Fundacíon Valparaiso (1995, 2001, Spain)
  • The Corporation of Yaddow (1992, 1995, 2002)
  • The MacDowell Colony (1997, 2000)
  • Moulin á Nef (2007, France)
  • Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (2003, 2005)
  • Convento Mertola (2008, 2009, Portugal)
  • KunsternaLogies (2009, The Netherlands)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Marino, Elisabetta (May 1, 2004). "on writing the self through poetry: an interview with Nick Carbo". El Ghibli. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Leung, Adrian (November 14, 2001). "And the Winners Are: APIA Literati Comes Out for 4th Asian American Literary Awards". AsianWeek. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Galang, M. Evelina (Spring 2004). "The Struggle for Form: A Conversation between Nick Carbó and M. Evelina Galang". MELUS. 29 (1): 281–293. doi:10.2307/4141805. JSTOR 4141805.
  4. ^ a b c "Intersections: Nick Carbó, 'Secret Asian Man'". NPR. February 16, 2004. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  5. ^ Carbó, Nick (November 11, 2003). "Le Mot Delicieux". Pecan Grove Press. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  6. ^ "Duhamel, Denise 1961". 2009. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Gotera, Vince (Fall 2002). "Brave New Archipelago: Recent Filipino American Writing". The North American Review. 287 (3/4): 69–72. JSTOR 25126803.
  8. ^ a b c Bresnahan, Roger J. Jiang (1998). "Review of Returning a Borrowed Tongue: Poems by Filipino and Filipino American Writers, Nick Carbó". Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 12 (1): 228–230. JSTOR 40860666.
  9. ^ Simons, Gary F. "Philippines". Ethnologue. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c Palomar, Al Camus (1996). "Review of Returning a Borrowed Tongue: An Anthology of Filipino and Filipino-American Poetry, Nick Carbó". World Literature Today. 70 (4): 1035. doi:10.2307/40152538. JSTOR 40152538.
  11. ^ a b c Flanagan, Kathleen (2001). "Review of Babaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina American Writers, Nick Carbó". World Literature Today. 75 (3/4): 141. doi:10.2307/40156819. JSTOR 40156819.