The Singapore Prize is an annual award given to literary works published in the country, spanning fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. It was first established in 1992 and is administered by the Singapore Book Council.
A winner is selected based on an evaluation of submissions that meet the SBC’s criteria, including being published in Singapore, and having a focus on a Singapore-themed theme or story. The judges may also consider the relevance of the work to local readers and its contribution to Singapore’s literature scene.
In addition to the main prize, the SBC also awards a Readers’ Favourite award that is voted for by members of the public. The winners receive $3,000 each, a trophy and a gift code to audiobook platform Storytel.
The award is open to works that are written or translated in English. The authors can be from any part of the world.
This year’s shortlist was made up of a mixture of old hands and new voices, ranging from the seasoned Suratman Markasan to the young Tamil writer rmaa cureess (Rama Suresh). There were also a number of ‘firsts’. For example, a first for the prize was the awarding of an SBC Achievement Award to veteran poet Thumboo, who is being conferred the award for the second time.
While many of the shortlisted titles have a personal slant, they are often rooted in Singapore’s history and culture, with a strong emphasis on national identity. For instance, ‘Leluhur: Singapore’s Kampong Gelam’ by Hidayah Amin, who was born in the Gedung Kuning building in Kampong Glam, is a non-fiction account of her childhood in a traditional home.
One of the judges for this year’s shortlist was Professor Kishore Mahbubani, a senior advisor at NUS’ Institute of South-East Asian Studies. He said that the prize should encourage works that are not limited to academic texts, but should also be inclusive of films, comics and other forms of media.
In its 30th year, the program has a theme this year of “resonance,” with the focus on how literature can trigger emotions and memories. Organizers say that it was an appropriate choice as the country grapples with its still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected more than 200,000 people.
The jury commended the film for its “great warmth and sensitivity” and “brightly guided ensemble cast of non-professional actors,” adding that it had “a clear message about a difficult subject.”
Aside from the prize, SGIFF was also awarded the Best Singapore Documentary, and Laha Mebow was voted as the best director for his debut feature ‘Gaga.’ The festival also rewarded a number of short films with production services packages, and screened more than 80 international films in 11 days. The awards were handed out by a jury comprised of film industry veterans such as academic Khoo Gaik Cheng, filmmaker Lucky Kuswandi and artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen.