By Mitali Chakravarty
On 19th June, 2018, the Singapore Book Council (SBC) announced 50 shortlisted titles for the Singapore Literary Prize (SLP) 2018.
Twelve judges, including prominent writers like Isa Kamari and Alfian Sa’at were part of the panel of judges who whetted English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil entries by Singaporean or Permanent Resident authors before shortlisting the books. Awards will be given out in twelve categories in a ceremony on 6th August 2018. The categories span the four official languages of Singapore and three genres — fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry.
As the SBC turns fifty this year, Mr William Phuan, the Executive Director, announced that the event would be opened to the public for the first time. Admission will be free by registration at http://slp2018ceremony.peatix.com/
A number of outreach events have been planned to create awareness among the public, including talks by shortlisted authors in bookshops, schools and National Libraries. From July 16th to September 8th , former SLP winning titles will be displayed at the Bras Basah National Library on level 9 in an exhibition titled “Celebrating Our Writers: The Journey of Singapore Literature Prize”. Besides reaching out to people on social media, readers will also be encouraged to guess the winners of the awards as well as choose the best cover designs, added Mr Phuan.
SBC was started as a charity in 1968 to develop creativity, imagination and original thought through reading, writing, illustration and storytelling. The SLP was started in 1991 to promote Singaporean literary talent and to stimulate public interest in Singapore literature.
The first Singapore Literature Prize winner (1992) was the well-known Singaporean veteran writer, Suchen Christine Lim, for her novel, Fistful of Colours. Since then, the award has expanded in categories and content.
Epigram Books, a local publishing venture, has swept the English fiction category for the award this time. All the five shortlisted titles have been published by them. Most of the books were published between 2016 and 2017. Mr Edmund Wee, the publisher, said that he had sent all the books that he published in the last two years out of which only five were selected; however, he could not specify the exact number of submissions he had made. According to Mr Phuan, from a total of 172 submissions, 50 titles had been picked across the 12 categories. Fiction had 56 entries, poetry 50 and creative non-fiction had 66 entries.
The selected titles belong to a wide spectrum of issues. Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Sugarbread is about growing up in multi-racial Singapore. Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency is a debut novel that dwells on the tumultuous days of leftist movements and political detentions in Singapore and Malaysia. Charmaine Chan’s The Magic Circle is a memoir about her dead sister. It explores her childhood with her sister in Singapore, written, she said, especially for her part-Kiwi-part-Singaporean niece to understand her maternal heritage. Then there is a journalistic book on Thailand titled, Unquiet Kingdom, by Nirmal Ghosh. These are just a few of the titles in English. Chinese, Malay and Tamil books too jostle for the awards. It will be interesting to see which titles finally win the twelve coveted prizes given out by the SBC.