Award: Relevance of Singapore Literature Prize

Awards are always controversial, and Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) is no different 

While putting forward his views on - Whither the Singapore Literature Prize, Peter Augustine Goh, Malay writer and winner of the prize in 2012, raised questions on the relevance of the SLP. “There seems to be no or little awareness among the general public about SLP. Moreover, recycled works - where an author simply adds on to his or her previous works - are also awarded the prize raising questions on the legitimacy of the adjudicating committee.”

The SLP launched in 1991 is awarded for creative writing in English by Singaporean writers. It includes S$10,000 for the award, S$5000 for a merit prize and S$1000 for a commendation prize.

Roger Jenkins, winner of the prize in 1995, while criticizing the stagnant SLP monetary award [it was S$10,000 in 1995, and is still the same] also added, “When I won the SLP, unpublished manuscripts were also considered. But now, only published works are considered, thus passing all the decision-making power in the hands of the publishers. In my opinion, the National Arts Council, which supports the SLP, must be very clear in its objective, whether the prize is to bring in more readers or to encourage more writers.”

Koh Tai Ann, who is with the centre for liberal arts and social sciences at the Nanyang Technological University, moderated the panel and was supportive of Jenkins views. “SLP must have two-pronged objectives – to give writers recognition as well help in getting quality unpublished work to get published - which are not being fulfilled as of now. That's why, the stopping of National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Book Awards were a great tragedy for our literary scene.”

Xi Ni Er, Chinese language writer of the poetry collection - The Stretched Credulity, also argued that may be the SLP prize money can be divided into poetry, fiction and non-fiction genres to give apt recognition to all the available local talent. “Till recently, only fiction and poetry works were considered for SLP, but last year, the government announced inclusion of non-fiction works as well,” informed Xi in reply to an audience query.

Meanwhile, the panellists were critical of the Book Council or NBDCS. “Right now, the Book Council's focus and energy is split into too many things. Thus, it is neither here or there. The people running the Council must get their act together soon,” Jenkins added.

Lack of criticism

In summary,” Koh said, “Importantly, Singapore's literary scene is hampered by a lack of criticism. There are not enough literary critics here, and even whatever number we have, they shy away from criticising sub-standard works. This is not helping improve the quality of our local literature. Also, I appeal to the authorities to provide sufficient funds so that quality works from any language can be trans-created in our four national languages, thus gaining a wider readership for the local writers.”