By The Book: 2020 Singapore Literature Prize goes to 17 writers and marks several firsts for the awards
Livestreamed on 27th August 2020, the first ever Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) virtual awards ceremony announced a total of 17 winners across its 20 prize categories, marking several firsts for the country’s most prestigious literary awards ceremony. For the first time in its history, two writers shared the top prize in both the Chinese and English Fiction categories; a female writer won the Poetry in English award; and SLP gave out its first Readers’ Favourite awards, where the public voted for their favourite shortlisted books in the four languages.
This edition of SLP observed the theme #WhyWeWrite, examining what compels writers to write, and why SLP is more relevant than ever before in these challenging times. A total of 12 winners and four merit winners were selected by different panels of local and international judges in each of the 12 categories, spanning the three genres of poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction, and in the four official languages of Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil. Each winner receives a cash prize of S$3,000, while each merit winner receives S$2,000. They will also get a trophy and a 12- month gift subscription to audiobook platform StoryTel.
Wong Koi Tet and Sithuraj Ponraj were the two biggest winners at this year’s SLP. Both writers snapped up two awards each at the ceremony. First-time shortlisted writer Wong Koi Tet won in the Creative Nonfiction and Fiction in Chinese categories, for his books 《达哥打》 (Dakota) and 《豹变》(Black Panther) respectively.
Sithuraj Ponraj won the award for Poetry in Tamil, and a merit prize for Fiction in Tamil, for இத்தாலியனாவது சுல ம் (It is Easy to be an Italian) and மரயாகன (The Wooden Elephant respectively.)
Following her nomination for 2019 Lambda Literary Awards, first-time SLP shortlisted writer Marylyn Tan became the first female to win the Poetry in English prize for her first published book, Gaze Back. “Gaze Back is unlike any other poetry title this year – a clarion call for gender and linguistic reclamation, searing in its sassy confidence and universal appetite. It reminds us of the responsibility of poetry to confront and contest the power of language to determine who we are and what we desire,” commented the judging panel, comprising Yeow Kai Chai, Cathy Song and Lawrence Lacambra Ypil.
This edition saw two winners in each of the four languages in the fiction genre— an unprecedented result since the award was expanded to three genres in 2014. In the Chinese category, Wong Koi Tet and Chia Joo Ming won for their works 《豹变》(Black Panther) and《建国》(Kian Kok) respectively. In the English category, Akshita Nanda and Ng Yi-Sheng emerged as co-winners, for their works Nimita’s Place and Lion City respectively.
“[We] found the writing style of Nimita’s Place inviting, humorous and endearing. [We] were impressed by the rich and well-researched novel and the complexities of the main characters, living and working within their historical eras,” comment the judging panel for Fiction in English, comprising Haresh Sharma, Angelia Poon and Anjali Joseph. “[We] also appreciated the inventive, syncretic quality of the stories in Lion City, as well as the originality of the work and the new perspectives it shed on Singapore.”
Jamal Bin Ismail and Noor Aisya Buang co-won merit prizes in the Malay category for Tunguk Langit and Labirin Al Maut (Labyrinth of Al Maut) respectively, while the Tamil category saw Sithuraj Ponraj and Yousuf Rowther Rajid co-win merit prizes for மரயாகன (The Wooden Elephant) and வண் டியும் ஒரு நாள் ஓடத்திஹலறும் (Carriage will also board the Barge a day) respectively.
Four writers beat out their competition to lay claim to the inaugural the Readers’ Favourite award. The writers of the four winning books – Ashwini Devare, Lee Leng Kiong, Peter Augustine Goh and Yousuf Rowther Rajid – each received a cash prize of S$1,000, with their voters standing the chance to win book vouchers worth $50. Almost 3,000 people voted for their favourite books across the four languages during the period from 22nd July to 17th August.
A total of ten writers emerged as first- time winners, including Akshita Nanda, Wong Koi Tet, Jamal Ismail, Marylyn Tan, Dr Mohamed Pitchay Gani Mohamed Abdul Aziz, Noor Aisya Buang, Shubigi Rao, V. Hemalatha and Yousuf Rowther Rajid.
Shubigi Rao’s win for Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book comes as a surprise, considering it was up against Teo You Yenn’s bestseller This Is What Inequality Looks Like in the English Creative Nonfiction category, and almost certainly the favourite to win thanks to its influence. The judging panel, comprising Clarissa Oon, Eddie Tay and Sarah Churchwell commented: “Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book is probing, exhaustive in its global scope, intellectually ambitious and deeply felt, which gets to the heart of what ‘creative nonfiction’ can be. As a book on the value of books, it provokes the whole question of what a book is in terms of form. Replete with insight and wisdom, the book is able to stand with the best in world literature.”
In the lead-up to the awards ceremony, SBC organised six online panel discussions with SLP 2020’s shortlisted writers, addressing topics discussed in their work. Following the awards ceremony, SBC will be organising an online series of conversations and workshops featuring the SLP 2020 judges from September to October. Readers can continue to get up and close and personal with the shortlisted writers on SBC’s Facebook by watching the #AtHomeWithSLP series of panel discussions, which features the shortlisted SLP writers discussing topics that are relevant to their works.
Full List of SLP Winners:
Poetry in Chinese – Gabriel Wu, 《形成爱》 (Love Comes Into Shape)
Poetry in English – Marylyn Tan, Gaze Back
Poetry in Malay – Samsudin Said, Sepatu Mimpi (Dream Shoes)
Poetry in Tamil – Sithuraj Ponraj, இத்தாலியனாவது சுல ம் (It is Easy to be an Italian)
Creative Nonfiction in Chinese – Wong Koi Tet, 《达哥打》(Dakota)
Creative Nonfiction in English – Shubigi Rao, Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book
Creative Nonfiction in Malay – Mohamed Pitchay Gani Mohamed Abdul Aziz, Falsafah Pengkarayaan Melayu Singapura (The Philosophy of Singapore Malay Creative Writing Process)
Creative Nonfiction in Tamil – V. Hemalatha, வாகைமர ஹநாட்டு (Banana Money)
Fiction in Chinese – Wong Koi Tet, 《豹变》(Black Panther), and Chia Joo Meng, 《建国》(Kian Kok)
Fiction in English – Akshita Nanda, Nimita’s Place, and Ng Yi-Sheng, Lion City
Fiction in Malay – Jamal Bin Ismail, Tunguk Langit, and Noor Aisya Buang, Labirin Al Maut (Labyrinth of Al Maut)
Fiction in Tamil – Sithuraj Ponraj, மரயாகன (The Wooden Elephant) and Yousuf Rowther Rajid, வண் டியும் ஒரு நாள் ஓடத்திஹலறும் (Carriage will also board the Barge a day)
Readers’ Favourite (Chinese) – Lee Leng Kiong, 《风向鸡 – 李宁强的摄影 诗》 (Lee Leng Kiong’s Photography Poetry Book)
Readers’ Favourite (English) – Ashwini Devare, Lost at 15, Found at 50
Readers’ Favourite (Malay) – Peter Augustine Goh, Warna Sebuah Rahsia (The Colour of Secret)
Readers’ Favourite (Tamil) – Yousuf Rowther Rajid, வண் டியும் ஒரு நாள் ஓடத்திஹலறும் (Carriage will also board the Barge a day)
The Singapore Literary Prize Award Ceremony was broadcast online on 27th August 2020 at 8pm on the Singapore Book Council’s Facebook and YouTube pages. For more information and the full list of nominees, visit their website here