Catherine Lim



 Catherine Lim Poh Imm (b. 21 March 1942, Penang, Malaysia–) is the doyenne of Singapore stories. Lim is an accomplished and critically acclaimed author who has published a dozen collections of short stories, five novels, two volumes of poems and even a play.

She began as a teacher, then was a project director with the Ministry of Education, became a specialist lecturer with the Regional Language Centre (RELC), and finally became a full-time writer in 1992. She has won national and regional book prizes for her literary contributions. Her works are studied in local and foreign schools and universities, and have been published in various languages in several countries.

Early life
Born in Malaysia in 1942, Lim came from a large family of 14 children – four boys and ten girls; she was the eighth child.1 Her father was Chew Chin Hoi, a plantation accountant.2 Growing up in the town of Kulim, Kedah, on the border of Penang,3 Lim and her siblings were sent to English-stream schools.4 Lim herself was educated at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus schools in Kulim, and nearby Bukit Mertajam before attending Penang Free School for her Pre-University education.


Her early school compositions were particularly Euro-centric, with English-named characters.6 Although her mother subscribed to traditional Chinese religious practices and she was brought up conforming to Taoist traditions, Lim converted to Roman Catholicism when she was 15.7 However, later on in life, she became a humanist, and was given the Humanist Society’s inaugural Humanist of the Year award in 2011.8

Lim received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Malaya at Kuala Lumpur in 1963.9 A few years later, in 1967, she arrived in Singapore, and has lived here since.10 She taught at various schools from 1970 before becoming a project director with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) in 1980.11 At CDIS she rose to become Deputy Director of English Language and Social Studies.12 Then in 1988, the Regional Language Centre (RELC), Singapore, appointed her to a Lectureship in “Sociolinguistics, Pragmatics and Methodology”.13 Four years later in 1992, Lim resigned from her lecturing position to become a full-time professional writer.14

In 1994, she also gained controversial fame for writing a pair of articles seen as political: “The PAP and the people − A great affective divide” and “One government, two styles”.15 In the first article, she opined that there was an emotive disconnection between the PAP and the people, and in the second that then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s “people-oriented” style was being submerged under “the old style of top-down decisions”.16 Upon the publication of her second article, Prime Minister Goh rebuked her, saying that she was undermining his authority and challenged her to enter the political arena, if she wanted to comment on politics regularly.17

Education
c.1949–1953:
 Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Kulim, Malaysia.18

c.1954–1958: Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia.19
c.1959–1960: Penang Free School.20
1963: BA English Literature, University of Malaya.21
1983–1988: Ph.D (Applied Linguistics), National University of Singapore.22
1990: Fulbright programme, Columbia University, New York, and University of California, Berkeley.23
Oct–Dec 1993: Filmscripting, Department of Film and Television, University of California.24

Teaching career
c.1964–1967:
 Teacher in Kuantan, Malaysia.25

1970–1974: Teacher, St Andrew’s School.26
1974–1978: Teacher, St Patrick’s School.27
1978–1979: Teacher, Catholic Junior College.28
1980–1988: Project director rising to Deputy Director of English Language and Social Studies, Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, Ministry of Education.29
1988–1992 : Lecturer, SEAMEO Regional Language Centre (RELC).30
Feb 1992 onwards: Full-time professional writer.31

Writing career
Lim is best known for her collections of short stories, particularly Little Ironies: Short Stories of Singapore and Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories. Her first publication, Little Ironies, propelled her into the local literary scene and became an instant local best-seller.32 It was the beginning of a wave of short story authors publishing collections of their work.33 

According to Lim, her first book of short stories came about while she was producing instructional materials, and her supervisors advised her to try having them published.34 Little Ironies was subsequently included in the syllabus for the Singapore-Cambridge N-Level English Literature examination in 1987.35 

Then in 1988, Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories was selected as one of eight literature texts for the international GCE ‘O' Level Examinations managed by Cambridge University.36 It was on the syllabus for the 1989 and 1990 examinations.37 Lim’s second novel, The Bondmaid, was picked up by Orion Books in Britain and Overlook Press in the United States. It was also translated into French, German and Dutch.38 Orion went on to publish three more of her novels. 

Upon becoming a full-time writer, Lim gave talks regularly at local and international seminars, conferences, arts festivals, writers' festivals and even on cruise ships like the Queen Elizabeth 2. She has also written numerous articles and commentaries on contemporary and cultural issues in local and international newspapers.39 However, in 2015, The Straits Times reported her announcement that she would reduce her output of commentaries and lectures, to concentrate on mentoring younger Singaporeans.40

Awards/Honours
1982: National Book Council Development (Fiction) (Commendation), for Or Else, the Lightning God and Other Stories.
1988: National Book Council Development (Fiction) (Commendation), for The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream.
1990: National Book Council Development (Fiction) (Commendation), for O Singapore! Stories in Celebration.
1998: Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award.
1999: Southeast Asia Write Award, Thailand.
2000: Honorary Doctorate in Literature, Murdoch University, Australia, for contributions to education and literature.
2003: Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et Des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters), Ministry for Culture and Communication, France.
2005: Appointed Hans Christian Andersen Ambassador, Hans Christian Andersen Foundation in Copenhagen.
2014: Inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations.41


Works
Lim’s work deals largely with Singapore and Singapore Chinese culture, often juxtaposing traditional customs and beliefs with modernity and prosperity. Women in particular are often the protagonists as she examines traditional roles with contemporary Westernised urban life.42

Lim’s inspiration for her stories comes from her ironic sense applied to her personal life experiences, particularly her childhood in Kedah. Many characters and stories are drawn from childhood memories, the people she has encountered and things she reads. She finds the irony in human relationships and spins narratives from this into her stories.43

With her electronic novella, The Leap of Love, published on the internet by LycosAsia in 2000, Lim became the first Singaporean author to have a serialised e-novella.44 Although the e-novella was a failure, it was later published as a print book by Horizon Books in 2003.45 Local film producer Raintree Pictures then tried its hand at adapting two of Lim’s works, The Leap of Love and The Bondmaid, into movies.46 However, The Leap Years, the adaptation of The Leap of Love, made a loss when released in 2008.47 

Unhurried Thoughts At My Funeral (2005), a book in which Lim philosophically muses about her life using the imagined setting of her funeral, is probably her most unusual work.48


Selected works
Collection of short stories

1978: Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore.
1980: Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories.
1983: They Do Return...but Gently Lead Them Back.
1987: The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream: Love Stories of Singapore.
1989: O Singapore! : Stories in Celebration.
1992: Deadline for Love and Other Stories.
1993: The Best of Catherine Lim.
1993: Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2!
1993: The Woman's Book of Superlatives.
1999: The Howling Silence: Tales of the Dead and Their Return.
2009: The Catherine Lim Collection (an anthology of stories first published in the '80s and '90s).

2010: The Mother.
2014: Roll Out the Champagne, Singapore!: An Exuberant Celebration of the Nation's 50th Birthday.

Poems
1992: Love's Lonely Impulses.
2006: Humoresque.


Novels
1982: The Serpent's Tooth.
1995: The Bondmaid (1997–1998 international editions).
1998: The Teardrop Story Woman.
2001: Following the Wrong God Home.
2003The Song of Silver Frond.
2011: Miss Seetoh in the World.

E-novella
2000: A Leap of Love (print publication in 2003).

Non-Fiction

2005: Unhurried Thoughts at My Funeral.
2018: Romancing the language : a writer's lasting love affair with English.

Play

1994: Kampong Amber.

Quotes
“I write because I enjoy it. I write about things that interest me – human behaviour, human relationships, the not-so-pleasant abilities people possess to deceive one another, seek revenge, inflict pain. And their capacity to bear it all as well.”49


“I draw my inspiration and material from life around me; from people I’ve known.”50

“I’m so sensitive to irony that if I see a situation, I witness something, I hear something, I read a report in the newspaper about something, and I see it as potential for a short story, my ironic sense immediately creates a narrative and then I sit down and write.”51 

Family
52
Ex-Husband:
 George Lim, retired teacher and businessman (Canada) whom she divorced in 1984. 

Children: Daughter, doctor (Hong Kong) and son, journalist (United States)



Author
Nureza Ahmad




References
1. Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)

2. Wicks, P. (2002). From Kulim to Singapore: Catherine Lim’s literary life. In Mohammad A. Quayum & P. Wicks (Eds.), Singaporean literature in English: A critical reader. (pp. 353–364). Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, p. 355. (Call no.: RSING 820.995957 SIN)
3. Chew, D. (1989, September 23). Simple small-town folks matter just as much, if not moreThe Business Times, p. 14; Bhalla, S. T. (1992, September 27). Beyond cause and effectThe Sunday Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lim, C. (1988, August 16). The child in writer Catherine LimThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Chew, H. M. (Interviewer). (2007, April 9). Oral history interview with Lim, Catherine (Dr) nee Chew, Poh Imm [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002976/02/02, p. 22]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
6. Lim, C. (1994, June 4). Why I wear the cheongsam. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Bhalla, S. T. (1992, September 27). Beyond cause and effectThe Sunday Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ong, S. H. (2002). An interview with Catherine Lim. In Mohammad A. Quayum & P. Wicks (Eds.), Singaporean literature in English: A critical reader. (pp. 369–376). Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, p. 372. (Call no.: RSING 820.995957 SIN)
8. Feng, Y. (2011, July 23). ‘I’ve no God – and am proud of it’The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Doyenne of writers. (2008, August 3). The Sunday Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Yap, S. (2008, August 9). Chirpy in the cityThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, H. M. (Interviewer). (2007, April 9). Oral history interview with Lim, Catherine (Dr) nee Chew, Poh Imm [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002976/02/02, pp. 23, 25]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
11. Koh, B. S. (1992, February 1). Catherine’s golden ageThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Yaw, Y. C. (1988, April 12). Teaching of English becoming ‘more creative’The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
13. Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70-80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
14. Koh, B. S. (1992, February 1). Catherine’s golden ageThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Lim, C. (1994, September 3). The PAP and the people – a great affective divideThe Straits Times, p. 34; Lim, C. (1994, November 20). One government, two stylesThe Sunday Times, p. 12; Lim, L. (2003, June 21). Chastised once, but writer stands by her viewsThe Straits Times, H18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Lim, C. (1994, Novemebr 20). One government, two stylesThe Sunday Times, p. 12; Lim, L. (2003, June 21). Chastised once, but writer stands by her viewsThe Straits Times, H18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Chua, M. H. (1994, December 5). PM: No erosion of my authority allowedThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 72. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
19. The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 72. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
20. The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 72. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC); Chew, H. M. (Interviewer). (2007, April 9). Oral history interview with Lim, Catherine (Dr) nee Chew, Poh Imm [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002976/02/02, p. 22]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
21. Yap, S. (2008, August 3). Doyenne of writersThe Sunday Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. RELC takes in its first PhD candidates. (1983, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 11; Yap, S. (2008, August 3). Doyenne of writersThe Sunday Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Koh, B. S. (1992, February 1). Catherine’s golden ageThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Catherine goes back to school. (1993, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
26. Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70-80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
27. Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
28. Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
29. Lim, Y.-E. (1999). Women in bondage: The stories of Catherine Lim. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 823 LIM); Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC)
30. Wicks, P. (1991). The short stories of Catherine Lim. In Literary perspectives on Southeast Asia: Collected essays by Peter Wicks (pp. 70–80). Toowoomba: USQ Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 809.8895 WIC); Koh, B. S. (1992, February 1). Catherine’s golden ageThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Koh, B. S. (1992, February 1). Catherine’s golden ageThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Mahbubani, G. (1980, September 6). Cultural cringe…The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Loh, M., & Yamada, T. S. (2009). Conflict and change: The Singapore short story. In T. S. Yamada (Ed.), Modern short fiction of Southeast Asia: A literary history (pp. 213–241). Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies, p. 220. (Call no.: RSEA 808.83108895 MOD)
34. Lim, C. (2002). The writer writing in English in multi-ethnic Singapore: A cultural peril, a cultural promise. In Mohammad A. Q. and P. Wicks (Eds.), Singaporean literature in English: A critical reader. (pp. 345–352). Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, p. 350. (Call no.: RSING 820.995957 SIN)
35. Beng, T. (1986, March 13). Singapore writers make the gradeThe Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Alfred, H. (1988, January 16). S’pore book is O-level text worldwideThe Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Tan, E. S. (1989, June 4). Cambridge picks second S’pore book as O-level textThe Sunday Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Ong, S. F. (1997, January 16). Agent helps Catherine Lim make world debutThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Ong, S. H. (2002). An interview with Catherine Lim. In Mohammad A. Q. and P. Wicks (Eds.), Singaporean literature in English: A critical reader. (pp. 369–376). Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, p. 369. (Call no.: RSING 820.995957 SIN)
40. Political commentator Catherine Lim to write less, mentor more. (2015, July 10). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
41. Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame (2014). Catherine Lim.  Retrieved 2018, October 8 from website: https://www.swhf.sg/profiles/catherine-lim/
42. Wicks, P. (2002). From Kulim to Singapore: Catherine Lim’s literary life. In Mohammad A. Q. and P. Wicks (Eds.), Singaporean literature in English: A critical reader. (pp. 353–364). Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, pp. 354–360. (Call no.: RSING 820.995957 SIN); Leong, L. G. (2002). Situating gender, evolving identities: Women in four novels by Catherine Lim and Suchen Christine Lim. In Mohammad A. Q. and P. Wicks (Eds.), Singaporean literature in English: A critical reader. (pp. 241–251). Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 820.995957 SIN)
43. Wicks, P. (2002). From Kulim to Singapore: Catherine Lim’s literary life. In Mohammad A. Q. and P. Wicks (Eds.), Singaporean literature in English: A critical reader. (pp. 353–364). Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, pp. 354–355. (Call no.: RSING 820.995957 SIN); Chew, H. M. (Interviewer). (2007, April 9). Oral history interview with Lim, Catherine (Dr) nee Chew, Poh Imm[Transcript of cassette recording no. 002976/02/01, pp. 8–13]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
44. Zackaria, Abdul Rahim. (2000, November 29). E-novel by Catherine Lim. Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

45. Chow, C. (2003, April 12). Leap from e-novella to real bookThe Straits Times, p. L12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Foo, S. (2002, November 13). From page to screenToday, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Nanda, A. (2015, April 7). Screen does not boost print. The Straits Times, Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
48. Tom, K. (2005, March 24). The meaning of LimThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. Wicks, P. C. (1992, February 23). A sketch of a Singaporean writer of international reputeThe Sunday Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

50. Wicks, P. C. (1992, February 23). A sketch of a Singaporean writer of international reputeThe Sunday Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Chew, H. M. (Interviewer). (2007, April 9). Oral history interview with Lim, Catherine (Dr) nee Chew, Poh Imm [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002976/02/01, p. 5]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
52. Yap, S. (2008, August 9). Chirpy in the cityThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Further resources
Lim, C. (1988, August 16). The child in writer Catherine LimThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Leong, L. G. (2001, April 21). Book-doomed love in the ten courts of hellThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Leong, S. (2004, February 14). Affective to a fault. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

Wee, L.A. (2000, October 11). Singapore more open now- writerThe Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at December 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
Lim, Catherine Poh Imm, 1942-
Language and literature>>Fiction
Literature
Writers
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Fiction writers
Women authors, Singapore--Biography
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