Eleanor Wong Siew Yin (b. 6 February 1962, Singapore–)1 is a lawyer and playwright. She is best known for her trilogy of plays Invitation to Treat (2003), which explores the themes of lesbianism, female sexuality and gender politics in Singapore.2 Two of the plays were staged in the 1990s as Mergers & Accusations (1993) and Wills & Secession (1995). The last instalment, Jointly & Severably, was produced as part of Invitation to Treat in 2003. Wong made her theatrical debut with her first play, Peter’s Passionate Pursuit, which clinched a joint first prize at the NUS-Shell Short Play Competition in 1986. Wong is also well known in the legal circles. She is director of the Legal Skills Programme and vice dean of student affairs at the law faculty of the National University of Singapore (NUS).3
Wong was born in Singapore on 6 February 1962.4 Her father was a professor of anatomy at NUS, while her mother taught literature at the Townsville Institute. Wong spent brief periods of her childhood in England and Australia.5
Wong completed her secondary education at the Methodist Girls’ School, and the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level examination at the Anglo-Chinese Junior College. She then went on to read law at NUS, where she participated in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition and was named Best Orator.6
After graduating from the NUS in 1985, Wong joined the Commercial Affairs Department as a deputy public prosecutor.7 From 1985 to 1989, she prosecuted several high profile cases such as the Pan-Electric/Tan Koon Swan corporate fraud case and the insider trading of Alan Ng.8 For her contributions, Wong was presented with a commendation plaque by then Minister for Finance Richard Hu.9
In 1990, Wong left the civil service.10 She obtained her Masters in Law (Corporate) from the New York University in 1989, and joined as a finance lawyer at the New York office of Coudert Brothers in 1990.11 In 1992, she returned to Singapore and worked for Coudert Brothers’ Singapore office.12 Later, she joined the Singapore branch of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.13
Wong took a break from her law career and ventured into the media industry in 2000.14 She joined The Right Angle, a local production company, where she was involved in its various operations including business development, corporate affairs, technology ventures, communications training and consultancy.15 During this time, she also hosted a current affairs show, After Hours, which aired on Singapore Press Holdings’ former television channel, TV Works.16 Wong is also remembered for chairing the nationally televised SIA-JC debates in 1998.17
In 2002, Wong joined the NUS as director of the Legal Writing Programme.18 She was also a member of the Remaking Singapore project’s main committee and its Beyond Credit Cards sub-committee.19
Wong’s love for writing was first nurtured during her school days in Australia, under the tutelage of a teacher whom she described as an “innovative educationalist”. The teacher encouraged his students to engage in all forms of writing from non-fiction to poetry, and writing exercises were daily affairs.20 After she returned to Singapore, Wong continued to develop her language ability by being actively involved in her secondary school’s Literary, Drama and Debating Society and the Music Society. She also wrote and served as an editor for her former church’s newsletters.21
A civil procedure class at NUS led Wong to conceive the idea for her first play, Peter’s Passionate Pursuit.22 The play won a joint first prize at the NUS-Shell Short Play Competition in 1986.23 In the same year, the work was produced by theatre company, STARS, under the direction of Roger Jenkins.24
In her journey as a playwright, Wong has worked closely with two directors in particular – Ekachai Uekrongtham and Ong Keng Sen. At interviews, she credited the former for prompting her to write during her three and a half years in New York.25 Real Life? (1989), Exit (1990) and The Joust (1991) were some of the results of their collaborations.26
Upon her return to Singapore in 1992, Wong was encouraged by Ong, artistic director of TheatreWorks, to join the theatre company’s writers workshops. Though Wong had originally intended for the workshops to serve as a platform to rework her earlier play To Touch the Soul of a God (1987), writer’s block and subsequent discussions with Ong led to the writing of Mergers & Accusations.27 The play centres around the character Ellen Toh, a lesbian lawyer who leads a double life under the guise of a marriage of convenience.28 The play was produced by TheatreWorks, at The Black Box in 1993.29 In 1996, the play tied for first place at the National Book Development Council of Singapore Awards (Drama Category).30
The second of Wong’s plays on Ellen Toh, Wills & Secession, was produced by TheatreWorks in 1995.31 The last of the trilogy, Jointly & Severably, was produced as part of Invitation to Treat in 2003.32 Helmed by director Claire Wong with theatre company W!LD RICE, the production saw the staging of the trilogy in its entirety for the very first time.33
Wong is also known for Jackson on a Jaunt (or Mistaken Identities) and The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ.34 Jackson on a Jaunt was part of TheatreWorks’ double bill, Safe Sex, which was intended for staging in 1988.35 However, the play about AIDS drew controversy when then Ministry of Community Development withdrew its support for the play’s portrayal of homosexuality as an acceptable form of sexuality. It was finally produced one year later at the Drama Centre.36 The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ also drew public attention, this time for its provocative title. It was staged at the inaugural Singapore Theatre Festival which Wong curated in 2006.37
In 2005, Wong published a book on poems titled Y Grec, which she co-wrote with poet Madeleine Lee based on their trip to Greece.38
During interviews, Wong expressed the importance of writing to her inner life. Though the writing typically takes 8 to 10 weeks, it is the accumulation of a year’s thinking process.39
Wong believes that a good play should entertain and also engage the audience’s minds. As a reflection of her personal belief that plays should challenge and affect social norms and public discourse, her plays often carry a social theme or agenda.40 She said, “My inclinations have always been to preach, teach and, some might say, impeach. I have seldom been an impartial observer or chronicler of the human condition. More often than not, I have had a position and a clear tendency to advocate it”.41 She also said, “My main impetus – to enlarge the sphere of understanding, to celebrate diversity."42
1986: Joint first prize, NUS-Shell Short Play Competition, for Peter’s Passionate Pursuit.
1996: National Book Development Council of Singapore Awards (Drama Category), for Mergers and Accusations.43
1986: Peter’s Passionate Pursuit or Two’s Company – published in Prize Winning Plays (1987), the first anthology of NUS-Shell Short Play Competition prize winning plays.44
1987: To Touch the Soul of a God.
1989: Real Life?
1989: Jackson on a Jaunt or Mistaken Identities.45
1990: Exit – excerpts from Exit were published in More Than Half the Sky: Creative Writings by Thirty Singaporean Women (1998).
1991: The Joust.
1993: Mergers & Accusations – published in Dirty Laundry, Mergers & Undercover: Plays from Theatreworks’ Writers’ Lab (1995).46
1995: Wills & Secession – published in Playful Phoenix: Women Write for the Singapore Stage (1996).47
1996: Block Sale.48
2003: Jointly & Severably.
2003: When Billy Sang the Blues.49
2006: The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ.
2006: Brenda and the Backdoor Boys.50
2005: Y Grec – a collection of poems co-authored with poet Madeleine Lee.
2005: Invitation to Treat – comprising the trilogy of Mergers & Accusations, Wills & Secession and Jointly & Severably.51
2006: Earlier – a collection of Wong’s earlier plays.52
Father: Wong Wai Chow
Mother: Ng Kim Lan
Sister: Catherine Wong
1. Clara Chow, “The Monday Interview,” Straits Times, 18 December 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
2. C. Williams, “Corridors of Power,” Singapore Tatler 25 (298) (July 2007), 143 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ST-[HIS]); Eleanor Wong, Invitation to Treat: The Eleanor Wong Trilogy (Singapore: Firstfruits, 2005), 8 (Call no. RSING S822 WON); Jacqueline Lo, “Prison-House, Closet and Camp: Lesbian Mimesis in Eleanor Wong’s Plays” in Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, ed., Kirpal Singh, vol. 3 (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2000), 99–100. (Call no. RSING 809.895957 INT)
3. “Wong Siew Yin, Eleanor,” National University of Singapore, accessed 15 November 2016.
4. Chow, “Monday Interview.”
5. S. H. Tan, “Separate Lives” Her World (January 1992), 250, 252 (Call no. RSING 052 HW); Ronald D Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong” in Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, vol. 4 (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2001), 245. (Call no. RSING 809.895957 INT)
6. Teo Pau Lin, “Talking on the Wong Side,” Straits Times, 9 September 2001, 18; Ashraf Safdar, “She’s All about Play,” Today, 30 August 2006, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Safdar, “She’s All about Play.”
8. Tan, “Separate Lives,” 250; Parvathi Nayar, “Multi-Hued Legal Eagle,” Business Times, 4 April 2003, 24; Koh Buck Song, “Eleanor’s Next Move,” Straits Times, 10 August 1990, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tan, “Separate Lives,” 250.
10. Tan, “Separate Lives,” 250; Koh, “Eleanor’s Next Move.”
11. “I Came Home to Have a Voice,” Straits Times, 25 April 1999, 32 (From NewspaperSG); Safdar, “She’s All about Play”; Koh, “Eleanor’s Next Move.”
12. T. Tan, “Who’s Afraid of Eleanor Wong?” 8 Days (29 August 1992), 32 (Call no. RSING 791.4505 ED); “I Came Home to Have a Voice.”
13. Anna Teo, “New Role for Playwright/Legal Eagle,” Business Times, 15 January 2000, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Teo, “New Role for Playwright/Legal Eagle.”
15. Teo, “New Role for Playwright/Legal Eagle”; Nayar “Multi-Hued Legal Eagle”; Teo, “Talking on the Wong Side.”
16. Teo Pau Lin, “Talking on the Wong Side.”
17. Teo, “New Role for Playwright/Legal Eagle”; Safdar, “She’s All about Play.”
18. Nayar, “Multi-Hued Legal Eagle”; National University of Singapore, “Wong Siew Yin, Eleanor.”
19. Nayar, “Multi-Hued Legal Eagle.”
20. Safdar, “She’s All about Play”; Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong,” 245.
21. Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong,” 246.
22. Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong,” 246.
23. Lo, “Prison-House, Closet and Camp,” 99.
24. Eleanor Wong, Earlier, ed. Ng Kwang Cheng (Singapore: Firstfruits, 2006), 29–30. (Call no. RSING S822 WON)
25. Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong,” 247–48.
26. Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong,” 248; Wong, Earlier, 126, 218, 288.
27. Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong,” 248; Lo, “Prison-House, Closet and Camp,” 99.
28. Lo, “Prison-House, Closet and Camp,” 99.
29. Wong, Invitation to Treat, 8.
30. Elisabeth Gwee, “Judges, Swamped By Horror, Hold Back Top Prize for Fiction at Book Awards,” Straits Times, 12 October 1996, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Wong, Invitation to Treat, 8.
32. Nayar, “Multi-Hued Legal Eagle.”
33. Wong, Invitation to Treat, 9; “And the Nominees Are…,” Straits Times, 16 March 2004, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Williams, “Corridors of Power,” 143; Wong, Earlier, 173.
35. Lo, “Prison-House, Closet and Camp,” 99.
36. Mary Rose Gasmier, “Change in Attitude and Sensitivities,” Straits Times, 22 November 1989, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
37. Parvathi Nayar, “She Has the Write Stuff,” Business Times, 4 August 2006, 29; Safdar, “She’s All about Play.”
38. Hong Xinyi, “Poetry in Motion,” Straits Times, 30 November 2007, 89. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Tan, “Separate Lives,” 250.
40. Williams, “Corridors of Power,” 143.
41. Klein, ed., “Eleanor Wong,” 250.
42. T. A. Koh, “The Gifted Who Discern and Say It for Us” in Our Lives to Live: Putting a Woman’s Face to Change in Singapore, ed. Kanwaljit Soin and Margaret Thomas (Singapore: World Scientific, 2015), 119–20. (Call no. RSING 305.4095957 OUR)
43. Gwee, “Judges, Swamped By Horror”; Wong, Earlier, 4, 29–30.
45. “Safe Sex in the Works,” Business Times, 13 March 1989, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
46. Wong, Invitation to Treat, 8; TheatreWorks’ Writers’ Lab, Dirty Laundry, Mergers & Undercover: Plays from TheatreWorks’ Writers’ Lab (Singapore: Theatreworks and Singapore Press Holdings, 1995), 1. (Call no. RSING S822 DIR)
47. Wong, Invitation to Treat, 8–9.
48. Wong, Earlier, 400.
49. Wong, Earlier, 460.
50. Wong, Earlier, 320.
51. Wong, Invitation to Treat, 6.
52. Wong, Earlier, 10.
53. Tan, “Separate Lives,” 250.
Corrie Tan, “Burning Down the Closet Door,” Straits Times, 30 December 2014, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
Eleanor Wong, Life~Science (Singapore: Firstfruits Publications, 2010). (Call no. RSING S821 WON)
Kanwaljit Soin and Margaret Thomas, Our Lives to Live: Putting a Woman’s Face to Change in Singapore (Singapore: World Scientific, 2015). (Call no. RSING 305.4095957 OUR)
“Like My Plays, Like My Poems,” Straits Times, 28 October 2010, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
Robin Chan, “Political Satire Used to Be Better,” Straits Times, 20 July 2013, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
“Timeline,” Today, 30 August 2006, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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.