A prize that celebrates works in Singapore’s four main languages – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – the singapore prize honours writers and books that have made an impact on the nation’s literary landscape. The award also seeks to encourage a thriving literary scene in the country.
This year, the shortlist includes books on subjects ranging from the history of an estate to the politics of detention. One of the books, Sembawang by Kamaladevi Aravindan, examines a group of ordinary Singaporeans in the midst of the country’s political upheavals in the 1960s. It takes a different approach to history, challenging the view that the past is a tale dominated by a selection of big movers and shakers.
Another work that is making waves in the literature industry is a book on ancient artefacts by archaeologist John Miksic. His 491-page tome titled Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800 was awarded this year’s singapore prize by a jury led by NUS historian Wang Gungwu. The book shed light on some of the key mysteries surrounding Singapore’s origins.
It is a monumental work that is part of a larger narrative tracing the island’s development from its early years as a trading port to its modern identity as a global city. It also explores some of the key factors that have helped to shape the city-state, from its unique location, political and economic systems to the cultural nuances that make Singapore distinct.
While the prize aims to reward work that is deemed of literary merit, there are plans to expand the types of media that can qualify for nomination. In an article for the Straits Times, NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow Kishore Mahbubani suggested that the prize could include movies and other creative formats as well. Using the movie 12 Years A Slave as an example, he noted that such formats can sometimes communicate the complexity of historical events more effectively than academic books.
The singapore prize was launched in 2014 as part of the SG50 programmes to mark the country’s fifth decade of independence. Administered by NUS’ history department, the prize is the first of its kind devoted to Singapore’s history. It is worth S$50,000.
The winning entries will be announced at a ceremony next month. In addition to the monetary prize, the winners will receive a hand-crafted trophy and a 12-month subscription to StoryTel, a digital storytelling platform. More than half of the winners this year are making their debuts in the competition. Malay writer Suratman Markesan (Honing the Pen, Volume 2) and English-language author rma cureess are among them.
In a video interview with the BBC, violinists Dmytro Udovychenko, Anna Agafia Egholm, and Angela Sin Ying Chan said they were “overwhelmed” by the win. The three received a total of USD $110,000 in prizes, along with multiple concert engagements and mentorships.