The Singapore Prize, Celebrating 30 Years of Literature in Singapore

The Singapore Prize is a book prize that honors the best historical books written about the country. It was first introduced in 2014 in support of the SG50 programme to celebrate the nation’s five decades of independence and is administered by the National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of History.

This year’s award winner is John Miksic’s “Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800”. Prof Miksic was chosen by a four-member jury that included Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow at NUS Asia Research Institute and former chairman of the NUS History Committee.

According to the citation, Prof Miksic “reconciled history and literature to explore the meaning of Singapore’s history for contemporary societies.” The book, which was published in 2013, is part of a series that examines the impact of Silk Road trade on local society.

In the award’s 30th year, the focus this time is on resonance: how literature can trigger emotions and memories. Organizers say the theme is meant to reflect what people are experiencing as they grapple with a still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which is now in its third year.

It also highlights how literature can connect us to the past and our present. The six shortlisted works span the length and breadth of Singapore’s cultural landscape. The winners are selected by a four-member jury comprising academics from various fields.

The authors on the list include Singapore-based novelists, including Hidayah Amin and Jeremy Tiang, and non-fiction writers such as Dr Anitha Devi Pillai. The two shortlisted novels, State of Emergency and Sembawang, both examine the country’s recent history from a layperson’s perspective.

Another of the prize’s shortlists is the debut fiction of Naithy Nair, a 27-year-old whose work is inspired by her family’s experiences in Singapore’s immigration crisis. Her first novel, A Life of Our Own, will be released in October.

Her second, a YA novel, will be published next year. She hopes to publish a third in the near future, too.

Despite the ongoing political upheaval in Singapore, her parents’ love for the country remains strong. They have been living here since the late 1950s and continue to visit frequently, especially for cultural events such as the National Day Parade and Christmas Eve.

They also travel to other parts of the world to learn more about their heritage and culture. The pair have even taken their kids on a trip to China, which they find exciting.

The awards, which are presented by the Arts and Humanities Board of Singapore, are open to both professional and amateur artists who live in the region. The judges include representatives from NUS, Singapore Academy of Fine Arts and the National Gallery.

There are five categories, each with a prize of S$50,000: fiction; literary nonfiction; photography; art; and poetry. The winners will be announced in October.

The winners will receive a one-off award ceremony and a cash prize of S$50,000, with an additional 16.5 OWGR points. They will also be eligible for standard Tour event-winning benefits, including a two-plus season exemption on the Tour and berths in key events.