Lee Tzu Pheng

Lee Tzu Pheng (Dr) (b. 13 May 1946, Singapore -) is considered one of Singapore's most distinguished poets. A retired university lecturer, she is an award-winning poet who has published in anthologies and journals internationally. All her three volumes of poetry, Prospect of a Drowning (1980), Against the Next Wave (1988) and The Brink of an Amen (1991), have won the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Award. She is also a Cultural Medallion Award winner for Literature in 1985, and was the recipient of other awards such as the Southeast Asia WRITE Award (1987), Gabriela Mistral Award (Chile, 1995) and the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award for English Poetry (1996).

Early Life
Lee Tzu Pheng (b. 13 May 1946, Singapore -) studied at Raffles Girls' School and the University of Singapore. From the latter, she obtained her BA (Hons) in 1968 and PHD in 1972. She then became senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore's English Language and Literature Department. A rather shy person by nature and quite reticent about evaluating her own works when interviewed, she had never planned to become a poet.

Her first volume, Prospect of A Drowning, was first written during her undergraduate days, but she had it published eight years later in 1980. Her subsequent works were interspersed with long periods of silence, as she became caught up with her career and family.

Lee's poetry is meditative and lyrical in nature and with themes such as the individual's search for an identity and a larger unifying humanity in Against the New Wave (1988) and The Brink of an Amen (1991). Her later poetry increasingly questions faith and religion, evident in her work, Lambada by Galilee (1999). However, her most anthologised work to date is an early poem, My Country and My People (1976), which expresses her ambivalent attitude towards patriotism and nationhood. For Lee, more often than not, poetry is an expression of the poet's experiences in life.

Her literary output has been less than prolific (four slim volumes of poetry spanning 17 years) but they have been locally and internationally honoured with awards. She was honoured with the NBDCS awards for poetry in 1980, 1988, 1991, and the Cultural Medallion Award for Literature in 1985. In 1987, she was named Singapore's winner of the prestigious Southeast Asia WRITE award for her second anthology, Against the Next Wave. In 1995, she had the rare distinction of being conferred the Gabriela Mistral Award by the Chilean Government. The award was given to fifty outstanding writers worldwide to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral's winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Lee had the distinction of being one of six writers, and the only Singaporean, from the Asia-Pacific region to receive this one-time award. In 1996, Lee was one of two writers in English to receive the newly-inaugurated Montblanc-CFA (Centre For the Arts) Literary Award, in recognition of her literary achievement and contribution to Singapore literature.

Over the years, Lee has given numerous public readings and participated in seminars for the arts. She has read her poetry on the BBC and recorded her poems in a CD entitled "Singapore Poetry in English" (1999), as part of a compilation of readings by senior Singapore poets. Several of her poems have been set to music for choral performance by Singapore composer, Professor Bernard Tan. In addition, her poetry is studied in university courses in Australia, Canada and the USA. She is the lyricist of the National Day Ceremony Song, "My People, My Home", which has been part of National Day Ceremony in all schools in Singapore since 1998. Furthermore, Lee is well known for promoting reading and literature among the young, and is committed to nurturing talent in young writers. In 2002, the Lee Zhu Pheng Poetry Award was launched. This bi-annual award, given to aspiring young poets in secondary schools and junior colleges, is funded by the Lee Foundation and the Old Rafflesians' Association.

She has also been on the board of several arts committees. She was a member of the Jury Panel for Arts Grants, Singapore International Foundation, 1992-95; Drama Review Committee,1993-96; Arts Resource Panel, 1993-96; Mentor in Poetry, Creative Arts Programme 1990-; Adjudicator/ Chairman for poetry, Singapore Literature Prize 1993, 1995, 1997; member, National Art Council; and a Life Member, SPCA.

Lee is often uneasy when approached by fans asking for inspirational words of wisdom. She confesses to being terribly uncomfortable with all the attention and publicity that comes with winning awards, and spoke of how she had to battle her nerves when she first started lecturing students at the university. Public readings of her poems makes her nervous. As she once said of herself: "It's like that image of the swan- you look at it and it's very calm on top but it's paddling like mad underneath. For me, it's just like that."

1985 : Cultural Medallion for Literature.
1987 : Southeast Asia WRITE Award.
1995 : Gabriela Mistral Award (Chile).
1996 : Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award for English Poetry.

1980 : Prospect of a Drowning (NBDCS Award).
1987 : Growing Readers.
1988 : Against the Next Wave (NBDCS Award).
1991 : The Brink of an Amen (NBDCS Award).
1997 : Lambada by Galilee & Other Surprises.

Children: One daughter.

Nureza Ahmad

Lee, T. P. (1997). Lambada by Galilee and other surprises. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: SING S821 LEE)

Lee Tzu Pheng named Singapores winner of the prestigious 1987 Southeast Asia Write Award. (1988, October 14). Asiaweek, 69.
(Call no.: SING 950.05 A)

Award-winning poet puts herself between the lines. (1997, September 6). The Straits Times, Life!, p. 21.

Hwa Chong student wins top poetry prize. (2002, July 23). The Straits Times, Life!.

Koh, B. S. (1996, April 12). International Award for Lee Tzu Pheng. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 7.

Ng, W. J. (1990, January 22). Arts creativity seminar for talented secondary students. The Straits Times, p. 20.

Ong, S. F. (1999, January 5). Singapore poets go on record. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 3.

Read Alert! (1990, September 13). The Straits Times, pp. 1-2.

Seah, L. (1996, August 24). Veteran writers win inaugural literary awards. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 4.

National Book Development Council. (n.d). Lee Tzu Pheng, Dr. Retrieved April 26, 2004, from www.nbdcs.org.sg/Writers/LeeTzuPheng.htm 

Further Readings
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2003). Who's Who in Singapore (pp. 225-226). Singapore: Who's Who Pub.
(Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)

Ministry of Education. (1998, July 23). MOE press release: National Day Ceremony for schools. Retrieved April 26, 2004, from www.moe.gov.sg/press/1998/980723b.htm

Seet, K. K. (2001). The write stuff: the development of Singapore literature in English. Retrieved April 26, 2004, from //dbp.gov.my/pat/ppat2001/ldrseet.htm 

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we can 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.

Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Arts>>Literature>>English (Singapore) Literature>>Poetry
Lee, Tzu Pheng, 1946- --Biography
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Literature)
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Women poets--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors>>Cultural Medallion Recipients

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