Books By The Book literature Singapore

By The Book: 2022 Singapore Literature Prize shortlist announced

A total of 49 works have been shortlisted for Singapore’s top literary award, the much-anticipated biennial Singapore Literature Prize (SLP). The awards ceremony will be held at Victoria Theatre, and open to the public, on 25 August 2022 at 8pm. Emeritus Professor and literary pioneer Edwin Thumboo will be presented with the SBC Achievement Award at the awards ceremony.

The 49 works are shortlisted in 12 categories, across the three genres of Poetry, Fiction and Creative Nonfiction and four languages of Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil. A total of 43 writers will vie for the top award in the categories, which comes with a cash prize of S$3,000 and a specially-commissioned trophy. More than half of the writers are shortlisted (28) for the first time, while five will contest in two or more different categories, including Clara Chow, who has been shortlisted in English Fiction, English Creative Nonfiction and in the Chinese Poetry categories, showcasing her versatility as the first writer in the history of SLP to be shortlisted in three categories across two different languages. 

2022 marks 30 years since SLP was first established in 1992. The theme of this year’s SLP, Resonance, pays tribute to literature’s power to evoke powerful emotions and memories in readers and writers as we re-examine our relationships after the pandemic. Edwin Thumboo, who is one of Singapore’s pioneer poets, will be conferred with the SBC Achievement Award at the SLP Awards Ceremony. The Cultural Medallion winner founded the Poetry Festival Singapore, where SLP 2022 shortlisted poets will be featured. 

SLP 2022 also sees the return of the SLP Readers’ Favourite category. The public is invited to vote online for their favourite shortlisted book in Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil. The winning writers will each receive a cash prize of S$1,000, with the voters standing the chance to win book vouchers. 

In the poetry category, two directors of the Singapore Writers Festival, one former and one current, Yeow Kai Chai (One to the Dark Tower Comes) and Pooja Nansi (We Make Spaces Divine), are vying with Mok Zining’s first book The Orchid Folios, along with Daryl Lim Wei Jie (Anything But Human) and Jee Leong Koh (Connor & Seal: A Harlem Story in 47 Poems).

Of the poems, the judges commented: “Careful deliberation, with keen negotiations among the judges, has distilled this year’s shortlisted books from a formidable crop of entries. These five books represent an inclusive variety of formal strategies and themes. The mix includes a book-length treatment of a single ostensible subject, playfully allusive verse, hybrid prose, explorations of love and desire. All of them are dynamic and brilliant.”

Jee Leong Koh is also shortlisted for SLP’s English Fiction category for the first time for his work Snow at 5 PM: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet, along with children’s books and Young Adult (YA) fiction writer Mallika Naguran (She Never Looks Quite Back) and confessional poet Cyril Wong (This Side of Heaven). They are also up against Clara Chow (Not Great, But At Least Something) and Daryl Qilin Yam (Shantih Shantih Shantih)

Of the fiction, the judges commented: “This year’s exemplary shortlist represents the breadth and scope of Singapore’s contemporary literary landscape. Established and emerging authors share the honour of being finalists, showing that our stories can be widely captured by the perspectives and inventive capabilities of writers at all stages of their careers. The selected titles explore some common themes that speak to the experience of life in Singapore, such as identity, mortality, transnationalism, alienation, the meaning of art and the negotiation of spaces. Yet the works are individually unique in each author’s voice and style, taking risks with language and form that remind us of the invigorating potential of fiction. All of the works on the shortlist are purposeful with form and genre, making connections between narratives in various ways. It is particularly notable that a range of publishers are represented  in the shortlist as well, from major presses such as Penguin Random House to independent presses and self-publishing platforms. This diversity of platforms is a reminder of Singapore’s widening publishing landscape and the exciting growth in options for authors.”

All the writers in the English Creative Nonfiction category are shortlisted for the first time, including Wang Gungwu, who at the age of 91, is as old as Suratman Markasan, who is shortlisted for two works in Malay Creative Nonfiction. Both nonagenarians are the oldest writers shortlisted for SLP 2022. The range of works encompass travelogues, pirates and snowfall in Singapore, and include Clara Chow’s New Orleans, Kagan Goh’s Surviving Samsara: A Memoir of Breakdowns, Breakthroughs, and Mental Illness, Nilanjana Sengupta’s The Votive Pen, and Wang Gungwu’s Home is Where We Are.

Of the creative nonfiction, the judges said: ““The books on the shortlist for the 2022 Singapore Literature Prize in Creative Nonfiction explore a range of subjects in a variety of forms, which highlight the diversity of compelling voices who demand and reward our attention. Wang Gungwu’s meditation on identity and belonging in the unfolding story of Southeast Asia, Home Is Where We Are, is at once a paeon to love and the life of the mind and a study in the destiny of nations, while Nilanjana Sengupta’s idiosyncratic biography of Singapore’s unofficial Poet Laureate, Edwin Thumboo, The Votive Pen, examines the ways in which his life informs his writings and vice versa. Clara Chow’s brilliant literary travelogue to New Orleans, in the company of writers from around the world, offers a unique vision of an endlessly fascinating city, which seems to generate stories at every turn. Finally, Kagan Goh’s heartbreaking memoir of his breakdowns, breakthroughs, and mental illness, Surviving Samsara, will both haunt and hearten readers, because he understands ‘how important the arts are to [his] journey of recovery.’ In short, there is something in each of these books that will speak for different experiences.””

SLP 2022 received a total of 192 submissions across the various categories, with the shortlisted works covering a wide range of topics, and representing different generations of writers. The drop from 2020’s 224 submissions is an indication of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the publishing industry.

The 2022 Singapore Literature Prize awards ceremony will be held at Victoria Theatre, and open to the public, on 25th August 2022 at 8pm. More information available here

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