Koh Buck Song


Koh Buck Song (b. 1963, Singapore - ) is a writer, editor, poet and journalist. He has edited or co-edited and authored books of fiction, non-fiction and poems. Koh has also served on the boards and committees of various governmental organisations, and received a Special Recognition Award for public service from the Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA) in 2002.
Early life and education
Koh was born in Singapore in 1963. He completed his early education at St Andrews primary and secondary schools before entering Hwa Chong Junior College. Koh then read English at Cambridge University, where he obtained his masters degree, and later received a post-graduate Certificate in Education from the University of London. In 2003, he began a stint as a Mason Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, emerging with a Master in Public Administration.

Describing his family background as a humble one, Koh grew up in Toa Payoh. As a child, he loved reading and used to borrow as many books as he could from the public library. He wrote his first poem, titled The Jetty, in primary school but it was in secondary school that his interest in literature really grew. He credits his teachers in secondary school and junior college with nurturing his love of literature.

After his tertiary education, Koh worked as a journalist at The Straits Times because the newspaper had bought out his government service bond. He worked at the newspaper’s domestic politics and literary review desks, and was a columnist before becoming editor of the Life! section and assistant editor of the world news section. He was with the newspaper from 1988 to 1999.

After leaving The Straits Times, Koh joined the Economic Development Board (EDB) of Singapore as its head of corporate communications. He left the EDB and joined communications consultancy firm Hill & Knowlton as a campaign strategist in 2005.

Koh is a member of the council of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, and has taught leadership as an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the Singapore Management University School of Social Sciences, where he teaches a course on media regulation and censorship.

Literary career
Koh has edited or co-edited and authored books of fiction, non-fiction and poems.

Three of his poetry collections have been published: A Brief History of Toa Payoh and Other Poems in 1992, The Worth Of Wonder in 2001 and The Ocean Of Ambition in 2003. His poetry has been featured in anthologies such as Journeys: Words, Home and Nation, Words for the 25th: Readings by Singapore writers, No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry and Portraits of Places: History, Community and Identity in Singapore. The 2002 anthology From Boys To Men: A Literary Anthology Of National Service was complied and co-edited by Koh, and included his poems.

Koh has been a prodigious editor and co-editor as well as author of non-fiction books. Besides writing for The Straits Times and Today newspapers, Koh has also edited Singa, the journal for literature and the arts in Singapore.

His fiction book Bugis Street: The novel was published in 1994 to accompany the musical of the same title.

He represented Singapore at the Southeast Asian Writers’ Conference in Manila, the Philippines in 1990, and the Cambridge Literature Seminar in 1992. In 1992, Koh was Poet-in-Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, Scotland under the auspices of the Singapore-Scotland Cultural Co-operation programme.

Literary influences and style
Koh cites Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound as influences. Other influences during his early years include John Steinbeck, Chinua Achebe, William Shakespeare and Jonathan Swift. Koh has also noted that the works of Edwin Thumboo, Arthur Yap and Lee Tzu Pheng inspired him to add to the body of work in Singapore literature.

Koh has said that travel has informed and motivated much of his writing. Critics have noted that his academic background in literature influences his poetry, and his style reflects an interest in rhyme and alliteration.

Public service
Outside the field of literature, Koh has been involved in various public service positions. He was a member of the board of the National Arts Council, and served on its Drama Review Committee. He was also a member of the Censorship Review Committee of the former MITA from 1991 to 1992 and from 2002 to 2003. Koh was also on the board of advisors to the National Book Development Council of Singapore and on the board of the Singapore Arts Festival Steering Committee.
Published works

1992 : A brief history of Toa Payoh and other poems
2001 : The worth of wonder
2003 : The ocean of ambition

1994 : Bugis Street: The novel

Poetry and fiction (as co-editor)
2002 : From boys to men: A literary anthology of National Service in Singapore

Non-fiction (as editor and co-editor)
1997 : Southeast Asian art: A new spirit
1998 : Singapore: Places, poems, paintings
2000 : Toa Payoh: Our kind of neighbourhood
2002 : Heart work: Stories of how EDB steered the Singapore economy from 1961 into the 21st century
2005 : How not to make money: Inside stories from Singapore’s Commercial Affairs Department
2007 : Home at Mount Pleasant: The Senior Police Officers' Mess of the Singapore Police Force
2008 : Heartlands: Home and nation in the work of Ong Kim Seng

Alvin Chua

Khoo, S E. (1998). A Singaporean Sense of Place: Urban Transformation and Post-colonial Ambivalence in Koh Buck Song’s Bugis Street. In Singh, K. Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature Vol. 1: Fiction (pp. 93-104). Singapore: Ethos Books.
(Call no.: SING 809.895957 INT v. 1)

Klein, R D. (2005). Interview: Koh Buck Song. In Klein, R D. Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature Vol. 4: Interviews (pp. 264-271). Singapore: Ethos Books.
(Call no.: SING 809.895957 INT v. 4)

Koh, B S. (2003). Introduction. In Koh, B S., The Ocean Of Ambition. Singapore: SNP Editions.
(Call no.: SING 821 KOH)

National Book Development Council. (2009). Koh Buck Song. Retrieved on January 21, 2009, from http://www.bookcouncil.sg/_writers/writers_k.php

Sharrad, P. (1993). World Literature in Review: Singapore. World Literature Today, Spring 1993, Vol. 67, Issue 2. Retrieved on January 21, 2009, from EBSCOHost Academic Search Premier database.

Thumboo, E. (1992). Introduction. In Koh, B. S., A brief history of Toa Payoh and other poems. Singapore: Imperial Publishing House.
(Call no.: SING 821 KOH)

Toh, H M. (2003). Interview with Koh Buck Song. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Vol. 2, No. 2 January 2003. Retrieved on January 21, 2009, from http://www.qlrs.com/issues/jan2003/interviews/kohbucksong.html

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.

Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Koh, Buck Song, 1963-
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