The Singapore Prize For Literature Makes Its Debut

singapore prize

A Singapore prize that celebrates the stories of ordinary people makes its debut this year. The new prize, organised by the National University of Singapore (NUS), aims to “promote an understanding and appreciation of our heritage, identity and values.” It will honour both fiction and non-fiction books that explore Singapore’s history and are written in one of the nation’s four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The winner of the prize will be announced at a ceremony in June, and the winning book will receive S$50,000 in cash and other perks.

It’s a laudable goal, but it will be a challenge to choose between the diverse entries for this year’s prize. The shortlist includes the historical tome Seven Hundred Years: A History Of Singapore, the NUS-based Sembawang by Kamaladevi Aravindan and Jeremy Tiang’s memoir, The Road To Departure. These books – along with the rest of the shortlist – will be judged by a jury chaired by NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow Kishore Mahbubani. The panel’s other members include academic Khoo Gaik Cheng and filmmaker Lucky Kuswandi.

The prize’s judging criteria will focus on the work’s resonance. Mahbubani says the prize’s “judges will consider how a particular work of narrative and creative work has made an impact in a local context.” They will also assess whether a book has been “effectively and compellingly written, and how it has been structured to engage readers”.

The award will also recognise how a book has shaped the perspectives of its audience. The judges will be looking for a book that “has the ability to inspire empathy and inspire action in its readers, to make the world around us more beautiful, fair and just”.

For the second year running, the Singapore Literature Prize has returned to a physical format. Tonight at Victoria Theatre, 12 winners were named across the English and Tamil categories in a ceremony that saw literary pioneer Edwin Thumboo receive the SBC Achievement Award. All of the winners in the English category are first-time winners, including alllkunila (Azhagunila), innnpa (Inbha), Jee Leong Koh’s Snow At 5PM: Translations Of An Insignificant Japanese Poet and Yeow Kai Chai’s Connor & Seal.

In the Tamil category, the winner is Mok Zining’s Orchid Folios. There were 192 submissions, down from 224 last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the judges were impressed by the quality of the works.