The Singapore prize is a biennial literary award given to writers whose works address the “national spirit and concerns.” Founded in 1969, it honours the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew for his contributions to Singapore. It has since become one of the most prestigious literary awards in Asia. Winners are honoured with the award, a gold medal, and a cash prize. Donations to the prize have been received from various Singapore philanthropists and were recently boosted by a S$1 million donation by DBS Foundation.
A prize for the best short film by a Singaporean director was also awarded in the same ceremony. The winning short film, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, was directed by Singaporean filmmaker Alvin Lee and is about a young girl’s struggles with her parents’ marital break-up. The film won a total of S$25,000 in cash and production services from Shooting Gallery Asia.
Several authors whose works were published in the last year are up for this year’s Singapore Literature Prize. The six books in the running include Kamaladevi Aravindan’s novel Sembawang (2020, available here), which follows the lives of residents living on the same estate for decades, and Jeremy Tiang’s State Of Emergency (2017, available here), which details an extended family’s involvement in leftist political movements and detentions. Jee Leong Koh’s Snow At 5pm: Translations Of An Insignificant Japanese Poet and Rama Suresh’s rma cureess (2020, available here) are also on the shortlist.
The prize was launched by NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow Kishore Mahbubani in a Straits Times column. Mahbubani said: “The great American social scientist Benedict Anderson has argued that nations are ‘imagined communities’ and that the shared story of their past is a critical glue holding societies together. This prize aims to encourage and celebrate the telling of our story in ways that resonate with Singaporeans.”
Some of the winning works explore the history of different Singaporean groups, including migrants, ethnic minorities and women. Others are more scholarly in their approach, seeking to understand the country’s past through a wider lens. The prize’s panel of judges, which includes the aforementioned scholars and the head of NUS’ Department of History, are looking for a work that is resonant with Singaporeans in both form and content.
In addition to the main prize, there are three special recognitions, namely the Reader’s Favourite award, the Lifetime Achievement Award and the SBC Achievement Award. Each of these comes with a hand-crafted trophy and a 12-month gift code for audiobook platform Storytel.
The shortlist for this year’s award will be announced on 6 November. The winners will be honoured at the awards ceremony on 30 November, which will be held in conjunction with Earthshot Week, an initiative that sees global leaders and businesses convene to accelerate solutions and bring about tangible action to repair the planet. For more information, visit the official website.