Bienvenido Santos was born on March 22, 1911, in the Manila slums. Despite losing his mother to cancer at the age of thirteen and his father to tuberculosis two years later, Santos managed to earn a baccalaureate in education at the University of the Philippines in 1931. For the next ten years, Santos taught and wrote profusely. From the publication of his first story in 1930 to his first trip to the United States in 1941, ninety-two of his stories appeared in the pages of various magazines. In 1941, Santos received a government scholarship to study in the United States. Stopping first at the University of Illinois, Santos went on to study creative writing at Columbia and then English at Harvard. His studies were interrupted, however, by World War II, when he was summoned to Washington, D.C., to work in what would become the Philippine embassy. Later during the war, the United States Office of Education asked him to tour the country and lecture about the value of the Filipinos, America's new allies against Japan.
In 1946, Santos returned to his wife and three daughters in the Philippines, where he wrote You Lovely People (1955) in memory of the Pinoys he met and whose lives he shared while traveling in the United States. In 1958, Santos received a Rockefeller creative writing fellowship and, along with his wife, left for the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. In Iowa, Santos completed his first two novels, Villa Magdalena (1965) and The Volcano (1965), while on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Upon his return to the Philippines in 1961, Santos took the position of dean and then of vice president of the University of Nueva Caceres and, in 1965, was awarded the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in Literature. A year after receiving the most prestigious literary award