José Garcia Villa was born in Manila in 1908. He attended the University of the Philippines, but he was suspended in 1929 after publishing a series of erotic poems, titled “Man-Songs,” in the Philippines Herald Magazine. That same year, he won a short story contest through the Philippines Free Press and used the prize money to travel to the United States, where he studied at the University of New Mexico.
From New Mexico, Villa moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. There, he became the only Asian poet in a community that also consisted of E. E. Cummings, W. H. Auden, and other modernist poets. In 1933 his Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others (Charles Scribner’s Sons) became the first book of fiction by a Filipino author published by a major United States-based press.
Villa also continued to publish in the Philippines, and his poetry collections Many Voices (Philippine Book Guild) and Poems (The Philippine Writers’ League) appeared in 1939 and 1941, respectively. In 1942 he published his first poetry collection in the United States, Have Come, Am Here (Viking Press), which was a finalist for the 1943 Pulitzer Prize. He went on to publish several more poetry collections in the Philippines, including Poems in Praise of Love (A. S. Florentino, 1962), and two in the United States, Selected Poems and New (McDowell Obolensky, 1958) and Volume Two (New Directions, 1949).
Villa was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Philippines Heritage Award, a Poetry Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, and a Shelley Memorial Award. In 1973 he was named a National Artist of the Philippines, and he also served as a cultural advisor to the Philippine government. He died in New York City on February 7, 1997.