Singapore’s Desmond Kon Clinches Silver at 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards


Desmond Kon
Desmond Kon

Fresh from his double win at this year’s Beverly Hills International Book Awards, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé has been named a silver medalist at The 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY). This win, in the Multicultural Fiction category, is for his novel, Singular Acts of Endearment (Squircle Line Press & Grey Sparrow Press), which was launched at last year’s Singapore Writers Festival. Monona Wali’s My Blue Skin Lover (Blue Jay Ink) takes the gold, while Chantel Acevedo’s A Falling Star (Carolina Wren Press) walks away with the bronze.

“The world of book publishing keeps changing, as technological progress brings instant access to news, knowledge and entertainment,” says Awards Director Jim Barnes. “All of this information overload can make us yearn for the old-school technology of the book – but how to find the best new reads?…. The winners make up a reading list that is extensive and diverse, featuring new voices and viewpoints passionately expressed…. Congratulations to all the medalists for their independent spirit and dedication to excellence in an always-changing world of publishing and bookselling.”

Barnes notes how “amazingly diverse” the IPPY Awards has become in its reach for the most impressive books in the global publishing arena. Indeed, the IPPY Awards is recognized as the world’s largest book awards competition, with the awards ceremony held during the annual BookExpo America publishing convention. The 19th Annual IPPY Awards ceremony will be held on Wednesday, 27 May, in Providence, New York. This year, entries have come in from all 50 US states and the District of Columbia, eight Canadian provinces, and 34 other countries around the globe. Books are assessed under several criteria, with judges looking at the book’s immediate impression, language, originality, message, relevance, and design.

Desmond_booksSome of the distinguished titles this year include winners in the categories of: Performing Arts with Malka Marom’s Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words (ECW Press); Architecture with W. Geoff Gjertson’s Generating Hope: Stories of the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press); Fine Art with Arthur Amiotte, Louis S. Warren, and Janet Catherine Berlo’s Transformation and Continuity in Lakota Culture: The Collages of Arthur Amiotte, 1988-2014 (South Dakota State Historical Society Press).

Several categories have served up a tie for the gold. Under Photography, Cantor Arts Center’s Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums (Stanford University Press) shares its win with Art Wolfe’s Earth is My Witness (Insight Editions). In Contemporary Fiction, Jean P. Moore’s Water on the Moon (She Writes Press) shares honours with Justin Courter’s The Heart of it All (Owl Canyon Press).

Desmond put to bed the last pages of his novel, thanks to his stint as the inaugural writer-in-residence at Gardens by the Bay, with the generous support of the National Arts Council. In her review of the book, Penelope Chan, Editor of Simply Her, had this to say: “So heaped is this book in poetry, literary, music and movie references – not to mention Desmond’s incredibly relatable yet poignantly ironic observations of Singaporean life – that you’re swept away from the get-go. I learnt more from this book, with its carefully crafted pops of info, than the last dozen books I read.”

In the genre-specific Fiction categories, some captivating titles include winners in: Literary Fiction with Lindsay Hill’s Sea of Hooks (McPherson & Company); Historical Fiction with C. F. Yetmen’s The Roses Underneath (Ypsilon & Co Press); Military/Wartime Fiction with Andrew Lam’s Two Sons of China (Bondfire Books); True Crime with Bill Reynolds’ Life Real Loud: John Lefebvre, Neteller and the Revolution in Online Gambling (ECW Press).

Nonfiction has witnessed no less deserving wins. Under Biography, Barbara Rylko-Baver bags the top prize with her grim book, A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps: My Mother’s Memories of Imprisonment, Immigration, and a Life Remade (University of Oklahoma Press). Under Celebrity Memoir, Ivor Davis aces with The Beatles and Me on Tour (Cockney Kid Publishing).

The History categories surface several important titles. Under World History, there is Days of Revolution by Mary Elaine Hegland (Stanford University Press). Under US History, there are again two gold medalists: Robert P. Watson’s America’s First Crisis: The War of 1812 (State University of New York Press), and Russ Castronovo’s Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America (Oxford University Press).

“I’m really happy that a work that dips its toes into the postmodern has made an impression on the judges,” Desmond says. “Writing an epistolary novel is daunting. To hold fast to that singular voice narrating one account after another. I deliberately chose to go with the monologic narrative because of how limiting it was. How confining and punishing it was on me as author. The monologic choice demands that the letters emanate from one perspective, that of one character. This unity – the illusion of its vocal arc – is at odds with the postmodern tangents knifing into the story at various points throughout. I don’t get the benefit of two characters conversing in the dialogic, or the luxury of a whole coterie of them in the polyphonic.”

“Writing Singular Acts of Endearment was emotionally draining. Utterly and completely. For one, I wrote quite a bit of my grandmother into it, and my grandmother was such a central and loved figure in my family. In the book, each chapter has – almost as a salve – at least one act of endearment. It was tiring. To write into the story such intentionality, but to keep it hidden, under layers. To work in themes of illness and death. Nature and human nature. And all sorts of love, from the edifying to the tentative to the furtive to the ruinous. There were times when day would turn to night, and night turn to day, and I’d hardly noticed. It was exhausting but that kind of immersion is the stuff of dreams for the writer. That sort of intimation with the text is what obsesses our work, and for better or worse, us.”

Indeed, Desmond’s obsessions will continue to be borne out of several projects scheduled throughout this year. As early as 16 May (Sat, 6.00-7.30pm), Desmond will be reading at Dhoby Ghaut Green Amphitheatre as part of NParks Artists’ Night Out. He joins other stalwart writers like Aaron Lee, Eric Tinsay Valles, Heng Siok Tian, Ian Chung, and Tan Chee Lay, in a preview reading to promote the upcoming Singapore National Poetry Festival. The night before, he’ll be at the luxurious Pod at the top of the National Library Building, to attend the launch of the official SG50 book, Living the Singapore Story: Celebrating Our 50 Years (1965-2015), with Singapore President Tony Tan as Guest-of-Honour.

In June and July, Desmond will be running workshops on ekphrastic writing at the Singapore Art Museum, where participants enjoy a tour of selected artworks in SAM’s new exhibition, After Utopia: Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art. Participants then sit down to pen pieces which dialogue with artworks that speak to them. For more details, check out: http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/utopia0715a

Ekphrasis will also obsess Desmond right through to the last quarter of 2015. Following last year’s successful collaboration with the Singapore Art Museum, Eye/Feel/Write will enjoy its second installment as a special program at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival. Eye/Feel/Write is a special commission by the National Arts Council of Singapore. As editor and manager of Eye/Feel/Write, Desmond has invited ten eminent writers – these include Alfian Sa’at, Chow Teck Seng, Divya Victor, Eric Tinsay Valles, Gwee Li Sui, Jerrold Yam, K Kanagalatha, Lee Tzu Pheng, Leong Liew Geok, and Yong Shu Hoong – to pen ekphrastic texts based on ten diverse artworks to be unveiled at The National Gallery Singapore, the Gallery’s own gala opening being one of the most highly anticipated events in this year’s arts calendar.