Mohamed Latiff Mohamed



Mohamed Latiff Mohamed (b. 20 March 1950, Singapore– ) is a prolific poet and writer in Singapore’s Malay literary scene. A teacher by training, he is best known for his works about the struggles of the Malay community in post-independence Singapore. A three-time winner of the Singapore Literature Prize, Mohamed Latiff was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2013.1

Early life, education and career
Mohamed Latiff Mohamed was born in Singapore on 20 March 1950. He received his education at Guillemard Malay School, followed by Tun Seri Lanang Secondary School and Kaki Bukit Secondary School.2

Mohamed Latiff recalled that when he was at Tun Seri Lanang Secondary School, his teacher had told him and his classmates that if they did not do something meaningful and contribute to society, they would not be remembered after they pass on. This comment spurred Mohamed Latiff to think of ways in which he could contribute to society, and he realised that he could do so by writing.3

Mohamed Latiff started writing at age 16 when he was still a student at Tun Seri Lanang Secondary School. In 1966, his poem Kepincangan (“Handicaps”) was published in the school magazine.4 That same year, his first short story, Ani cintamu masih usang (“Ani, your love is still outdated”), was published in the October issue of Bintang Dan Lagu, a popular entertainment magazine at the time.5

After completing his secondary education, Mohamed Latiff continued his studies at the Teachers’ Training College (present-day National Institute of Education). He taught at several primary and secondary schools before being posted to the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore as a specialist writer responsible for developing course materials for the Malay-language secondary curriculum.6 Mohamed Latiff retired from the education service in 1999 to pursue writing full-time.7

Poetry
Although he writes in many genres, Mohamed Latiff is best known for his poetry. According to him, poetry is a form of enlightenment that enriches the human spirit.8

Mohamed Latiff’s poetry began to make an impact on the local Malay poetry scene from the 1970s. He won various prizes in poetry competitions, and his poems such as Bangsaku di hari lahirku and Sentosa were published in the Berita Harian newspaper in May and September 1974 respectively.10

A recurring theme in Mohamed Latiff’s works is the struggles of the urban poor in Singapore, particularly among the Malay community. He has great empathy for the underdog and has been known to be highly critical of groups in power.11 Malay literary pioneer S. N. Masuri noted that Mohamed Latiff gained a reputation as a “poet of protest” and “an angry young man”, but appreciated the latter’s vision and commitment to poetry and its craft.12

In response to criticisms that he is an “angry writer”, Mohamed Latiff spoke about his concerns with presenting the truth and realities of life.13 During his speech when he received the SEA (Southeast Asian) Write Award in 2002, Mohamed Latiff said that writers and poets are witnesses and mirrors of human history, and they have a role to play in fighting for the truth and restoring dignity to people, especially those facing oppression and injustice.14

In terms of poetic style and form, Mohamed Latiff urged young poets to find their own voice and create their own literary forms befitting of the modern age, instead of borrowing or adapting from old or classical Malay literary forms.15

Novels and short stories
In addition to poetry, Mohamed Latiff has written many novels and short stories revolving around the life and struggles of the Malay community in post-independence Singapore. Although primarily a Malay writer, Mohamed Latiff hopes that his novels would help educate the young – not only from the Malay community, but also from the larger Singapore society – about Singapore’s history.16 

Mohamed Latiff’s first novel, Kota air mata (“The city of tears”), tells the story of Ani, a girl from a poor Malay family in Singapore who struggles to cope with her studies. She receives no support from her teacher and parents, and is cheated by the man who made her pregnant. Eventually, she takes her life, but her death has little consequence in the busy city where people such as Ani do not matter.17

Another one of Mohamed Latiff’s story that discusses poverty in Singapore is Batas langit (“Sky’s limit”), which is set in the period leading to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965. The story has been said to have semi-autobiographical undertones that reflect Mohamed Latiff’s own struggle with poverty while growing up in the slums in the 1950s.18 The book was awarded a consolation prize in the 1999 Malay Literary Awards by the Malay Language Council of Singapore.19 An English translation, titled Confrontation, was published by Epigram Books in 2013.20

Dalam keasingan (“In isolation”), published in 1989, was a breakthrough novel: It broke new ground in the Malay literary scene by using symbolic characters, a poetic language style and an unconventional storyline. The main character in the book is Pemuda (Youth) who is under detention by Yang Berkuasa (Authority). While under detention, Pemuda’s mind wanders and he encounters characters such as Seniman (Artist), Pemimpin (Leader), Guru Agama (Religious Leader) and Pengemis (Beggar).21

The story aims to portray the conditions of people living under a controlling regime where obedience is rewarded and opposition punished. The novel has been described as a “daring criticism of a society under tyrannical rule”.22 It was subsequently adapted into a play staged by Malay theatre group Teater Ekamatra in 1990.23

Angkatan Sasterawan ’50
Mohamed Latiff is an active and longstanding member of Malay literary association Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 (Asas ’50; meaning literary movement of the 1950s). Formed in 1950, the association aims to develop Malay literature and culture, protect the rights of its members and introduce innovations in literature while preserving traditional literary forms.24 Mohamed Latiff is among the second generation of Malay writers who has led Asas ’50 since the 1980s.25 He is currently vice-president of the association and regularly represents the association at various literary events and conferences. In 2010, the association presented him with the Anugerah Munsyi Abdullah award for his long-term commitment to creative writing.26

Family
Mohamed Latiff is married to Jamaliah Mohamed Noor. They have two sons, Khairil and Haikel.27

Selected published works
Poetry
1978: Segumpal api selingkar pelangi: Puisi-puisi pilihan 1967–1977.28
1983: Pralina (Oblivion): Antologi puisi (puisi-puisi pilihan 1978–1983).29
1988: Danau sukma: Sajak-sajak pilihan 1983–1987.30
2002: Bagiku sepilah sudah: Kumpulan puisi-puisi pilihan 1990–2002.31
2007: Bila rama-rama patah sayapnya: Puisi pilihan 2002–2006.32
2011: Bangsaku di hari lahirku.33

Novels/short stories
1977: Kota air mata.34
1978:
Di puncak rindu.35
1984:
Sandyakala.36
1989: Dalam keasingan.37
1996: Batas langit.38
1998: Ziarah cinta.39
2004:
Nostalgia yang hilang: Cerpen-cerpen pilihan 1982–2002.40
2004:
Ziarah rindu.41

Selected awards42
1998:
Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award.
1999: Malay Literary Award consolation prize for Batas langit (Malay Language Council of Singapore).
2002: Southeast Asian (SEA) Write award.
2003: Tun Seri Lanang Award (Malay Language Council of Singapore, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts).
2004: Singapore Literature Prize for Bagiku sepilah sudah (poetry collection).
2006: Singapore Literature Prize for Nostalgia yang hilang (short-story collection).
2008: Singapore Literature Prize for Bila rama-rama patah sayapnya (poetry collection).
2009: National Arts Council Special Recognition Award.
2013: Cultural Medallion.



Author
Stephanie Ho



References
1. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2004). Ziarah rindu. Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, p. 118. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.283 MOH)
3. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1989, June 7). Giving vent to rage in verse. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1989, June 7). Giving vent to rage in verse. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2004) Ziarah rindu. Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, p. 118. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.283 MOH)
7. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2012). Alam kepenyairan Singapura: pengamatan dan penciptaan. Singapore: Angkatan Sasterawan ’50, p. xi. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.281 MOH)
9. Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1989, June 7). Giving vent to rage in verse. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2004) Ziarah rindu. Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, p. 118. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.283 MOH); Bangsaku di hari lahirku. (1974, May 19). Berita Harian, p. 5; Sentosa. (1974, September 15). Berita Harian, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Azhar Ibrahim. (n.d.). Mohamed Latiff Mohamed: A clamour for a dignified presence. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/latiff.pdf
12. Masuri, S. N. (1985). Malay poetry in Singapore. In E. Thumboo et al. (Eds.), The poetry of Singapore. Singapore: The ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING S821 POE)
13. Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1989, June 7). Giving vent to rage in verse. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2012). Alam kepenyairan Singapura: pengamatan dan penciptaan. Singapore: Angkatan Sasterawan ’50, p. xiii. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.281 MOH)
15. Haron A. Rahman. (1983, September 5). Conflicting views between poets. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Helmi Yusof. (2013, October 23). Three trailblazers of the arts take top honours. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
17.
Azhar Ibrahim. (2014). The wretched of the city: The urban poor as perceived by the Malay-Indonesian intelligentsia. In Proceedings of the Papers, CAAS 4th International Conference at NUS, p. 19. Retrieved from onsortium for Asian and African Studies (CAAS) website:  http://ofias.jp/j/caas/2_Azhar%20IBRAHIM.pdf
18. Azhar Ibrahim. (n.d.). Mohamed Latiff Mohamed: A clamour for a dignified presence. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/latiff.pdf
19. Nanda, A. (2013, August 11). A different view of Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2013). Confrontation: A novel. Singapore: Epigram Books. (Call no.: RSING 899.283 MOH)
21. Suratman Markasan. (1989, August 9). Sharp criticism in Latiff’s new novel. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Suratman Markasan. (1989, August 9). Sharp criticism in Latiff’s new novel. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Yaakub Rashid. (1991, February 4). Telling tales. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Ahmad Hikmat Harun. (1981, November 25). Young writers and today’s challenges. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Anuar Othman. (1986, March 19). New blood takes over old literary group. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Mohamed Pitchay Gani Bin Mohamed Abdul Aziz & Muhammad Irwan Jamal. (2010). 60 years: Celebrating 6 decades of literary excellence. Singapore: Angkatan Sasterawan 50, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 899.28095957 SIX)
27. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1978). Segumpal api selingkar pelangi: puisi-puisi pilihan 1967–1977. Singapore: Solo Enterprises. (Call no,: Malay RSING 899.2305 MUH)
29. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1983). Pralina (Oblivion): Antologi puisi (puisi-puisi pilihan 1978–1983). [Denpasar Bali, Indonesia]: The International Cultural Study & Development Centre for Asia (Pusat Studi & engembangan Kebudayaan Asia), (Call no.: Malay RCLOS 899.281 MOH)
30. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1988). Danau sukma: Sajak-sajak pilihan 1983–1987. (1988). Singapore: Angkatan Sasterawan ’50. (Call no.: Malay RSING S899.2305 MOH)
31. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2002). Bagiku sepilah sudah: Kumpulan puisi-puisi pilihan 1990–2002. Singapore: Pustaka Nasional. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.281 MOH)
32. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2007). Bila rama-rama patah sayapnya: Puisi pilihan 2002–2006. Singapore: Angkatan Sasterawan '50. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.281 MOH)
33. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2011). Bangsaku di hari lahirku.  Singapore: Angkatan Sasterawan '50. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.281 MOH)
34. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1977). Kota airmata. Singapore: Penerbitan Solo Enterprise. (Call no.: Malay RSING S899.2305 MUH)
35. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1978). Di puncak rindu.  Singapore: Solo Enterprises. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.2305 MUH)
36. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1984). Sandyakala. Bali, Indonesia: The International Cultural Study & Development Centre for Asia. (Call no.: Malay RCLOS 899.283 MOH-[MSN])
37. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1989). Dalam keasingan. Selangor Darul Ehsan: Marwilis Publisher & Distributors. (Call no.: Malay RSEA MOH)
38. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1996). Batas langit. Kuala Lumpur: Pustaka Cipta Sdn Bhd. (Call no.: Malay SING MOH)
39. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (1998). Ziarah cinta. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. (Call no.: Malay SING MOH)
40. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2004). Nostalgia yang hilang: Cerpen-cerpen pilihan 1982–2002. Kuala Lumpur: Pekan Ilmu Publication Sdn Bhd. (Call no.: Malay SING MOH)
41. Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2004). Ziarah rindu. Singapore: Pustaka Nasional. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.283 MOH)
42. Azhar Ibrahim. (n.d.). Cultural Medallion 2013: Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/latiff.pdf;  Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. (2013). Confrontation: A novel. Singapore: Epigram Books. (Call no.: SING MOH)



Further resources
Anuar Nor Arai. (1989, December). Dua penyair si umat Singapura: Dari jalan permulaan, ke danau sukma. Dewan Sastera, 19(12), 14–18.
(Call no.: Malay R 899.2305 DS)

Rahman Shaari. (2002, December). Silang baur dalam Ziarah cinta. Dewan Sastera, 32(12), 42–44.
(Call no.: Malay R 899.2305 DS)

Rohman Munasip. (1999, July). Ziarah cinta menggunakan teknik pengulangan. Dewan Sastera, 29(7), 91.
(Call no.: Malay R 899.2305 DS)



The information in this article is valid as at 6 November 2014 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
Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, 1950-
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Literature)
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Authors, Malay--Singapore--Biography
Award winners