With the humbling theme #WhyWeWrite, the Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) 2020 invited readers to examine the realities that move writers to write.
This year featured 47 nominees in 12 categories across three genres – poetry, creative non-fiction and fiction – in all four of Singapore’s official languages. On Aug 27, the winners were announced in SLP’s first-ever virtual ceremony spearheaded by the Singapore Book Council.
In the English category, there were four winners. Among them were a man and three women, of which two were the very first cowinners of the English Fiction category. We dip into their prizewinning offerings.
01 CO-WINNER, ENGLISH FICTION: AKSHITA NANDA FOR NIMITA’S PLACE
A tale of two women, Nimita’s Place explores ideas of identity and belonging in two generations: Nimita Khosla in 1944 India and Nimita Sachdev, her granddaughter, a molecular biologist who ran away to Singapore. With a tender, at times witty, writing style, coupled with complex, dynamic characters, Nimita’s Place is at the forefront of stories from Singapore told by a unique former outsider’s perspective. Nanda, born in Pune, India, in 1979, has lived in Singapore since 1995. She worked for 12 years as a journalist and critic for The Straits Times.
02 CO-WINNER, ENGLISH FICTION: NG YI-SHENG FOR LION CITY
Singapore has seen its fair share of anthologies, but Ng's bizarre, whimsical perceptions of the Singapore landscape invites one to see the island in a whole new, neon light. From finding out that the Singapore Zoo’s animals are robots to being teased by the thought of a secret Changi Airport terminal for deities, this novel is full of surprises. The judges enjoyed the “inventive and syncretic quality of the stories”, proving that a wild imagination can pay off in a fantastical and deeply enjoyable read. This makes Ng a two-time winner of the SLP. His first was for Last Boy, his debut poetry collection that won in 2008.
03 WINNER, CREATIVE NONFICTION: SHUBIGI RAO FOR PULP II: A VISUAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE BANISHED BOOK
Artist, film-maker and writer Rao’s Pulp II is part of a decade-long film, book and visual art project focusing on the history of book censorship all over the world and expands on her encounters with the complex histories of archives and libraries. According to judges, “it gets to the heart of what creative non-fiction can be”. Littered with potent insight and intriguing visuals of important artefacts and spaces, this work traverses borders and invites reflection on humanity’s marginalised histories and how they relate to today’s socio-political issues.
04 WINNER, ENGLISH POETRY: MARYLYN TAN FOR GAZE BACK
Gritty, intense and critical, Gaze Back questions and subverts issues that cause division in our time. With themes of femininity, the occult and queerness, Tan’s debut collection wants you to understand and grapple with the importance of reading uncomfortable literature that challenges your world views. The judges claimed her work triumphed over the other titles this year due to her “clarion call for gender and linguistic reclamation; searing in its sassy confidence and universal appetite.” With her poetry, Tan has stamped herself in history for being the first female to win in this category of the SLP.