Tan Hwee Hwee



Tan Hwee Hwee (b. 1974, Singapore–) was the recipient of the National Arts Council’s (NAC) Young Artist Award in 2003. She is the author of Foreign Bodies (1997)1 and Mammon Inc. (2001),2 which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004.3 Her works have been published with Michael Joseph, part of the Penguin Group.She has also worked as a lifestyle journalist with Singapore newspapers The Business Times and Today.5

Early life
Tan’s father is an engineer and her mother, a teacher. She studied at Raffles Girls’ School before moving to the Netherlands with her parents at the age of 15.Tan lived there for three years, after which she pursued her Bachelor of Arts at the University of East Anglia in England, graduating with first-class honours. She then went on to obtain her master’s in English studies at the University of Oxford. In 1997, supported by a New York Times Fiction Fellowship, she completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing in New York University.


Tan stayed on New York and worked as a journalist with Adweek Magazine’s Technology Marketing magazine from 2000 to 2001.8 In 2001, she returned to Singapore because she had received a bursary from the NAC. Upon her return, she joined The Business Times as a lifestyle and arts reporter, and then became a senior writer for Twenty4Seven, a lifestyle and entertainment magazine. She also worked as a freelancer for publications such as TimeHarper’s BazaarElle, The Straits Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).9

Literary achievements
Tan decided to embark on fulltime writing when she was 16. She received between 200 to 500 rejection slips from publishers for her early writing efforts. However, her efforts paid off as she won awards such as the Ian St James Short Story Award and the BBC Radio Four “First Bite” competition for young writers.10 Her stories have been aired on the BBC and published in literary publications PEN International, Critical Quarterly and New Writing 6.11


Tan’s first novel, Foreign Bodies, was published when she was just 23, and still doing her graduate studies at the University of Oxford. Her manuscript reportedly caused a price war between Michael Joseph and Hodder & Stoughton, two major London-based publishers. The book was finally published by Michael Joseph as part of a two-book contract.12 The novel explores the anxieties and tensions of living in a postmodern world. Originally written as a series of short stories, it was later reworked into a novel.13 The book, which features elements from Eastern, Western, popular and religious cultures, garnered positive reviews from the critics. The Economist called it “a novel of distinction... almost indecently accomplished for a 23-year-old”, whereas Kirkus Reviews described it as “one of the strangest and most original works of the year”. Asiaweek named it as one of the best books of 1999.14

Tan wrote her second novel during her stay in New York from 1997 to 2001. Published in 2001, Mammon Inc. also received glowing reviews.15 Punch magazine called it “a remarkable novel that is stylishly written and well argued, with a story that is light, witty and yet dazzling in its details”. The Wall Street Journal hailed Tan as “the most important female fiction writer in English to emerge from Southeast Asia”.16 The novel, which follows Foreign Bodies in its eclectic mix of East and West, is a story of how materialism consumes the soul. It was adapted into a play by Action Theatre for the 2002 Singapore Arts Festival.17 In 2005, excerpts from Mammon Inc., were featured as part of the first staging of Second Link during the Singapore Writers Festival.18 For her artistic achievements, Tan received the National Arts Council’s Young Artist award in 2003, and Mammon Inc. won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004.19

Influences

Tan’s tales about the dichotomised global citizen are influenced by her own personal experiences living in Singapore, the Netherlands and New York.20 Foreign Bodies deals with the evils of child abuse, which relates to Tan’s own childhood when she suffered molestation and violence.21 The story also relates to her work with rape victims while serving in the University of East Anglia’s student counselling service.22 


An avid reader since young, Tan explores a wide array of genres, from science-fiction, fantasy, plays, comics to football writing. On the literary front, she credits works by the Beat Generation writers, metaphysical poets, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Arthur Miller as influences. She also names Amy Tan, Michael Ondaatje, Robert Olen Butler and Rudyard Kipling as writers whose works have influenced the portrayal of Asians in books.23

Awards

1997: New York Times Fiction Fellowship, New York University
1997: Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Young Writer’s Fellowship24
2002: Singapore Internationale Award, Singapore International Foundation25
2003: Young Artist Award, National Arts Council
2004: Singapore Literature Prize, for Mammon Inc.

Works
1997:
 Foreign Bodies
2001: Mammon Inc.



Author
Gracie Lee



References
1. Tan, H. H. (1998). Foreign bodies. London: Michael Joseph. (Call no.: RSING S823 TAN)
2. Tan, H. H. (2001). Mammon Inc. London: Michael Joseph. (Call no.: RSING S823 TAN)
3. National Book Development Council. (2016). Singapore Literature Prize: 2004 winners. Retrieved 2016, October 8 from National Book Development Council website: http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/singapore-literature-prize
4. Ong, S. F. (1997, August 2). S’pore author sparks London bidding war. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tan, H. H. (n.d.). Hwee Hwee Tan. Retrieved 2016, October 7 from LinkedIn website: https://sg.linkedin.com/in/hwee-hwee-tan-6a0b7b5
6. Lim, J. (1997, July 30). I had friends who were raped. The New Paper, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Leong, L. G., (Ed.). (2011). Tan Hwee HweeIn Literary Singapore:  A directory of contemporary writing in Singapore. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING: 809.895957 LIT) 
8. Nayar, P. (2001, June 30). Reaching out to peopleThe Business Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, H. H. (n.d.). Hwee Hwee Tan. Retrieved 2016, October 7 from LinkedIn website: https://sg.linkedin.com/in/hwee-hwee-tan-6a0b7b5
9. Toh, H. M. (2001, October). Mammon and the discipline of writing. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore1(1). Retrieved 2016, October 7 from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore website: http://www.qlrs.com/issues/oct2001/interviews/hhtan.html; Tan, H. H. (2016). Hwee Hwee Tan. Retrieved 2016, October 7 from LinkedIn website: https://sg.linkedin.com/in/hwee-hwee-tan-6a0b7b5
10. Singh, K. (1998). Positioned bemusement: An interview with Hwee Hwee Tan. In K. Singh (Ed.), Interlogue: Studies in Singapore. (Vol. 1). Singapore: Ethos Books, pp. 167–174. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT); Ong, S. F. (1997, August 2). S'pore author sparks London bidding warThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Tan, H. H. (1998). Foreign bodies. London: Michael Joseph, [n.p.]. Retrieved from NORA.
12. Ong, S. F. (1997, August 2). S’pore author sparks London bidding warThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singh, K. (1998). Positioned bemusement: An interview with Hwee Hwee Tan. In K. Singh (Ed.), Interlogue: Studies in Singapore. (Vol. 1). Singapore: Ethos Books, pp. 169–171. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
14. Tan, H. H. (n.d). Foreign Bodies. [Blog post]. Retrieved from Hwee Hwee Tan’s Christian Wisdom and Insights website: http://hweehweetan.com/foreignbodies/
15. Suhaila Sulaiman. (2001, July 7). About Generation ExpatThe Straits Times, p. 15; Nayar, P. (2001, June 30). Reaching out to peopleThe Business Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Tan, H. H. (n.d). Mammon Inc. [Blog post]. Retrieved from Hwee Hwee Tan’s Christian Wisdom and Insights website: http://hweehweetan.com/foreignbodies/
17. Chow, C. (2002, June 6). Drawing inspiration from the ForceThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Cheong, J. (2006, August 18). Cross-Strait look. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. National Arts Council. (2002). Young artist award: Full list of past recipients. Retrieved 2016, September 29 from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/naccorp/dam/jcr:798c3ca9-b1fa-44cf-8254-1c6327edd4d3
20. Pang, A. (2001, August 18). Tale for Gen VexedThe Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Singh, K. (1998). Positioned bemusement: An interview with Hwee Hwee Tan. In K. Singh (Ed.), Interlogue: Studies in Singapore. (Vol. 1). Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 171. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT); Lim, J. (1997, July 30). I had friends who were raped. The New Paper, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Singh, K. (1998). Positioned bemusement: An interview with Hwee Hwee Tan. In K. Singh (Ed.), Interlogue: Studies in Singapore. (Vol. 1). Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 171. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
23. Toh, H. M. (2001, October). Mammon and the discipline of writing. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, 1(1). Retrieved 2016, October 7 from http://www.qlrs.com/issues/oct2001/interviews/hhtan.html; Singh, K. (1998). Positioned bemusement: An interview with Hwee Hwee Tan. In K. Singh (Ed.), Interlogue: Studies in Singapore. (Vol. 1). Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 171. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
24. Ong, S. F. (1997, October 29). No money for five, but award is symbol of recognition. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. S'pore creative works go overseas. (2002, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Faith of a young newcomer to writing. (1997, September 10). The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

Samuel, J. (2001, November–December). Mammon Inc. Esplanade: The arts magazine, 83.
(Call no.: RSING 791.095957 E)

Chia, A. (2008, June 1). Spirituality is her new calling. The Straits Times, p. 73. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at September 2018 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. 

 

Subject
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Writers
Fiction
Tan, Hwee Hwee, 1974-
Arts>>Literature>>English (Singapore) Literature>>Fiction
Women novelists, Southeast Asian--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors