Eleanor Wong Siew Yin (b. 6 February 1962, Singapore-) is a lawyer and playwright. She is best known for her trilogy of plays Invitation to Treat (2005) which explores the themes of lesbianism, female sexuality and gender politics in conservative Singapore. Two of the plays were earlier staged as Mergers & Accusations (1993), Wills & Secession (1995). The last installment, Jointly & Severably, was produced as part of Invitation to treat in 2003. Wong made her theatrical debut with her first play, Peter's Passionate Pursuit, which clinched a joint first prize at the NUS-Shell Short Play Competition in 1986. Wong is also well known in the legal circles, and is currently the director of the Legal Writing Programme at the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Law.
Wong was born in Singapore on 6 February 1962. Her father was a professor of anatomy at the National University of Singapore and her mother taught literature at the Townsville Institute. Wong spent brief periods of her childhood in England and Australia. She completed her secondary education at the Methodist Girls School and her "A" Levels at the Anglo-Chinese Junior College. She went on to read law at the National University of Singapore (NUS). As a law student, she participated in the prestigious Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition and was named Best Orator.
After graduating from the NUS in 1985, Wong joined the Commercial Affairs Department as a deputy public prosecutor. From 1985-1990, she prosecuted several high profile cases such as the Pan-Electric/Tan Koon Swan corporate fraud case and the insider trading of Alan Ng. For her contributions, she was presented with a commendation plaque by then Minister of Finance, Richard Hu.
In 1990, Wong left the civil service to further her studies in the United States. She obtained her Masters in Law (Corporate) from New York University that same year and resumed her legal practice as a finance lawyer at the New York office of Coudert Brothers. In 1992, she returned to Singapore and worked for the Singapore office of the Coudert Brothers. Later, she joined the Singapore branch of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.
In 2000, Wong took a leave from law and ventured into the media industry. She joined The Right Angle, a local production company for a period of over two years where she was involved in its various operations including business development, corporate affairs, technology ventures, communications training and consultancy. During this time, she also hosted a current affairs show After Hours, which aired on Singapore Press Holdings' former television channel, TV Works. Wong is also remembered for chairing the nationally televised SIA-JC debates in 1998.
In 2002, Wong joined the NUS as the Director of the Legal Writing Programme - a post that she still holds today. She has also made several contributions to Singapore through her role as member of the Remaking Singapore main committee and the Beyond Credit Cards sub-committee.
Wong's love for writing was first nurtured during her school days in Australia. Under the tutelage of a teacher whom she described as an "innovative educationalist", writing exercises were daily affairs. Her teacher encouraged his students to engage in all forms of writing from non-fiction to poetry. When she returned to Singapore, Wong continued to develop her language ability through her active involvement in her secondary school's Literary, Drama and Debating Society and the Music Society. She also wrote and edited for her former church's newsletters.
It was during a civil procedure class in NUS that led Wong to conceive the idea for her first play, Peter's Passionate Pursuit. The play won a joint first prize at the NUS/Shell Playwriting Competition in 1986. In the same year, the work was produced by the theatre company, STARS, under the direction of Roger Jenkins.
In her journey as playwright, Wong has worked closely with two directors in particular - Ekachai Uekrongtham, the artistic director of Action! Theatre and Ong Keng Sen, the artistic director of TheatreWorks. In interviews, she credits Ekachai Uekrongtham for prompting her to write during her three and a half years in New York. Real Life! (1989), Exit (1990) and The Joust (1991) were some of the results of their collaborations.
When she returned to Singapore in 1992, Ong Keng Sen, the artistic director of TheatreWorks, encouraged Wong to join the TheatreWorks' Writers Workshop. Though she had originally intended for the workshops to serve as a platform to rework her earlier play To Touch the Soul of a God (1987), writer's block and subsequent discussions with Ong Keng Sen led to the writing of Mergers & Accusations. The play centers on the character of Ellen Toh, a lesbian lawyer who leads a double life under the guise of a marriage of convenience. The play was produced by TheatreWorks at The Black Box in 1993. In 1996, the play tied for first place at the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Awards (Drama Category). The second of Wong's plays on Ellen Toh, Wills & Secession, was also produced by TheatreWorks in 1995. The last of the trilogy, Jointly & Severably, was produced as part of Invitation to treat in 2003. Helmed by Claire Wong with the W!LD RICE theatre company, the production saw the staging of the trilogy in its entirety for the very first time.
Wong is also known for her other two plays, Jackson on a Jaunt (or Mistaken Identities) and The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ. Jackson on a Jaunt was part of TheatreWorks double bill Safe Sex that was intended for staging in 1987. The play about AIDS drew controversy when the Ministry of Community Development withdrew its support for its portrayal of homosexuality as an acceptable form of sexuality. It was finally produced two years later at the Drama Centre. Her latest work, The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ, also drew public attention for its provocative title, was staged at the inaugural Singapore Theatre Festival which Wong curated in 2006. In 2005, Wong published a book on poems Y Grec which she co-wrote with poet Madeleine Lee based on their trip to Greece.
In interviews, Wong has expressed the importance of writing to her inner life. Though the writing process typically takes from eight to ten weeks, it is the accumulation of a year's thinking process. She believes that a good play should entertain and also engage the minds of the audience. As a reflection of her personal belief that plays should challenge and affect social norms and public discourse, her plays often carry a social theme or agenda. She says, "My inclinations have always been to preach, teach and, some might say, impeach. I have seldom been an impartial observer or chronicler of the human condition. More often than not, I have had a position and clear tendency to advocate it". She also says, "My main impetus to enlarge the sphere of understanding, to celebrate diversity. It is natural of majority culture to miss the differences right in front of them sometimes or to fear and therefore reject that difference. We impoverish ourselves when we do that whether the minorities we shun are racial, ethnic, religious, political or sexual". Award(s)
1996: National Book Development Council of Singapore Award (Drama category) for Mergers and Accusations. Plays
2006: The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ
2003: Jointly & Severably
2003: When Billy Sang the Blues
1996: Block Sale
1995: Wills & Secession (published in Playful Phoenix: Women Write for the Singapore Stage (1996))
1993: Mergers & Accusations (published in Dirty Laundry, Mergers & Undercover: Plays from Theatreworks` Writers` Lab (1995))
1991: The Joust
1990: Exit (exerpts from Exit were published in More Than Half the Sky: Creative Writings by Thirty Singaporean Women (1998))
1989: Jackson on a Jaunt or Mistaken Identities
1989: Real Life? 1987: To Touch the Soul of a God
1986: Peter's Passionate Pursuit or Two's Company (published in Prize Winning Plays (1987), the first anthology of NUS-Shell Short Play Competition prize winning plays)
- : Brenda and the Backdoor Boys
2006: Earlier (a collection of her earlier plays)
2005: Y grec (a collection of poems co-authored with poet Madeleine Lee)
2005: Invitation to Treat (comprising the trilogy of Mergers & Accusations, Wills & Secession and Jointly & Severably)
Koh, T., et al. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: the encyclopedia (p. 570). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board. (Call no: RSING 959.57003 SIN -[HIS])
Lo, J. (2000). Prison-house, closet and camp: lesbian mimesis in Eleanor Wong's plays. In Singh, K. (Ed.), Interlogue: studies in Singapore literature (Vol. 3: Drama, pp. 99-116). Singapore: Ethos Books. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
Teo, P. L. (2001, September 9). Talking on the Wong side. The Straits Times. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law (2004). Academic Profiles. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://law.nus.edu.sg (then click on About us > Academic Staff > Wong Siew Yin, Eleanor)
The Editor. (2003, April 4). Eleanor Wong. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://www.fridae.com (then click on News//Features > News/Features Search > Eleanor Wong).
The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.