Response to Singapore Literature: The Write Stuff, Today, 18 Oct 2013, pp16
We refer to Kenneth Cheng’s commentary, Singapore Literature: The Write Stuff (Today, 18 October 2013, pp 16).
As the literary arts centre in Singapore, The Arts House endeavours to be a home to Singapore writers, and is fully committed to developing and promoting them and their works not only in Singapore, but abroad as well.
We organise close to 150 literary programmes a year, including festivals, readings, workshops and talks, and feature about 200 writers, both local and foreign. At The Arts House, both emerging and established Singapore writers are invited to showcase and share their works with the public. Furthermore, they can hone their craft through various writing programmes.
In particular, we offer the Singapore Creative Writing Residency, which is co-organised with the National University of Singapore University Scholars Programme. The six-month residency gives the writer not only time and space, but resources as well to write. Singapore writer and playwright Daniel Koh is one of two appointed resident writers this year.
The Arts House has, likewise, sought to create greater platform to promote Singapore writers to audiences abroad.
We launched the anthology, Man/Born/Free: Writings on the Human Spirit from Singapore, in Cape Town in 2011 as part of the Spotlight Singapore initiative. Published by local publisher Ethos Books and edited by literary critic and poet Gwee Li Sui, the book brings together works originally written in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil across almost six decades of Singaporean life, featuring acclaimed writers like Edwin Thumboo, Isa Kamari, Yeng Pway Ngon, Catherine Lim and Alfian Sa’at. This was the first time that Singapore literary works were introduced to a wide South African audience.
We concur fully with Kenneth that Singapore does not lack talent. Yeng Pway Ngon has won many awards, most recently the SEA Write Award, and his novel The Art Studio was hailed as one of the top 10 Chinese books by influential Hong Kong weekly Yazhou Zhoukan in 2011. Also, short story writer O Thiam Chin has been longlisted for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Short Story Award twice. We believe it is just a matter of time before we have a Man Booker Prize or Nobel Prize winner.
However, as Kenneth rightly pointed out, we should embrace our writers and their works and read their books. If there is one thing that we could learn from the success of Ilo Ilo, it’s that we should celebrate our talent first without having to seek the stamp of approval from others.
To that end, we have launched a series Sing Lit 101 that aims to promote and celebrate Singapore literature. We delve into the treasure trove of literary works that have been written over the past few decades – from poetry to novels, plays, short stories, non-fiction, and graphic novels, in all four languages – and dissect, analyse, and debate them. The series is open to one and all, from someone who is only discovering Singapore books to seasoned writers. In fact, we hope to work with teachers to bring this programme to schools and their students too.
We have our work cut out for us. But we are making great strides in boosting Singapore’s literary art scene, working in concert with the Singapore Writers Festival, publishers, local bookstores and literary organisations. We are convinced that Singapore, in time to come, will not only produce Singapore writers who will make their mark on the international stage, but also be a City of Literature where reading and writing is a way of life embraced by all.
The Arts House
This letter, Singapore can be a city of literature, was published in Today Voices on 24 October 2013.
In relation to this topic, Channel News Asia also chatted with Director of The Arts House, William Phuan and writer, Gwee Li Sui, on how the literary arts scene is developing in Singapore.