It is that time of the year again when the biennial Singapore Literary Prize invites published writers and poets to apply for this grand award of S$10,000, a plaque and the limelight. Probably, one of the most prestigious awards in Singapore, this was founded in 1991, one of the first recipients of it being writer Suchen Christine Lim for her vibrant novel inclusive of the disparate cultures housed in this island, Fistful of Colours. The first award was handed out by diplomat Tommy Koh to Lim in 1992.
The Singapore Writers’ Festival stretched to ten busy days with events glittering on the literature of Asian diaspora. The opening was by a Booker winner from Jamaica, Marlon James; Pico Iyer was another major highlight as were local Singapore legends like Edwin Thumboo, Isa Kamari, Suchen Christine Lim and Meira Chand .
Kitaab also launched three books during this festival: a translation of Isa Kamari’s Kiswah, Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal’s Masala Chai, a collection of poems and the Best Asian Short Stories (2019).
During a discussion on ‘Portrayal of Special Needs in YA (Young Adult Fiction)’, while award winning writer Suzanne Kamata focussed on the need to assimilate children with disabilities into the mainstream, Hannah Alkaff from Malaysia totted off statistics that proved more children would suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder( OCD ) over the years and therefore the need to create fiction like hers where children could identify with such issues. One wonders though why schools and caregivers would allow this rise in OCD to occur. Sarinajit Kaur from National Institute of Education, talked of how teachers could create not just better readers but generate hope in children by giving them books that are empathetic.
Eric Khoo, the acclaimed filmmaker from Singapore, has another feather in his cap. His films have been acknowledged for contributing to ‘international solidarity’ with the Bishwaratna Dr Bhupen Hazarika award this year.
Said Eric Khoo, the fourth recipient of this biannual award: “I believe that every person has intrinsic value beyond his or her race, religion, nationality or social class. This belief I understand was also shared by the late Bhupen Hazarika in whose honour the Award for International Solidarity was named. In this spirit, my films seek to bring people together, despite their apparent differences and thus, I am truly privileged to receive this award and to be associated with the late Bhupen Hazarika and his philosophy of International Solidarity.”
Horizon Afar is a collection of twenty-one translated short stories from the Singapore-based Tamil writer, Jayanthi Sankar. Spanning the last two decades, the stories shuttle between life in Singapore and India, creating links between the two countries and drawing on the writer’s multicultural experiences and interactions in the country where she lives.
The awards were presented by former SLP winners, including Suchen Christine Lim. Farihan Bahron, co-founder of a publishing agency and a much-awarded Malay writer, received two prizes this year, one for his poetry collection and a commendation for Malay fiction.
A.K. Vardharajan, one of the award winners for poetry in Tamil said that his book, Lee Kuan Yew’s Imaginary Childhood, had won the award because the book was about a very famous man, the founder of Singapore. However, he is an established writer himself and this book had won an award from the Singapore Tamil Writer’s Association in 2017.
The Magic Circle is a memoir by Charmaine Chan written for her sister who died of cancer. This book was justifiably short-listed for ‘The Singapore Literature Prize, 2018’. According to Jennifer Chen, the editor of The Peak, it is ‘a breathtaking rumination’.
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.