Literary awards and prizes in Singapore
by Nadia Ramli
Singapore’s array of literary awards and prizes recognises writers and works of literary merit. The honours are applicable to works in all four official languages of Singapore – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – and genres such as poetry and drama. The official recognition of literary achievements serves to encourage a thriving literary scene. Some of the significant awards include the Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) and the biennial Golden Point Award.
One of the earliest efforts to encourage and recognise excellence in local writing was initiated by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS). Instituted in 1976, the NBDCS Book Awards gave out trophies and cash awards to winning works published between 1972 and 1974. The awards were categorised by genres such as poetry, fiction and children’s books as well as by the four official languages.1
The NBDCS also launched the SLP in 1991, which was originally presented to the best unpublished English-language work. With the largest cash prize being S$10,000, the SLP was one of the biggest literary awards in Singapore at the time.2 Suchen Christine Lim’s A Fistful of Colours was the winning entry in the inaugural year of the competition.3 Then sponsored by local publisher SNP Editions, the competition was held annually until 1998, having pulled out their sponsorship in 1999.4 In 2000, Dymocks Booksellers sponsored the competition and it was renamed the Dymocks Singapore Literature Prize. However, the prize stopped that same year after Dymocks ceased operations here and there was a lack of sponsorship.5 The SLP returned in 2004 as a biennial affair with funding from the NBDCS and the National Arts Council. It also started being awarded to published works with separate categories for each of the four languages.6 However, the literary community voiced concerns over pitting poetry against fiction in the same category. In light of this, there was a new nonfiction category as well as separate prizes for fiction and poetry from 2014.7
In 1993, the biennial Golden Point Award was launched. Jointly organised by the National Arts Council and Singapore Press Holdings, it was then the only multilingual literary award awarded to unpublished works. The scope of the awards extended to poetry in 2001.8 In 2007, the competition implemented a new rule where only unpublished writers are eligible to join, in a bid to identify new creative-writing talent. That same year, The Arts House became the new co-organiser alongside the National Arts Council.9
In 1996, the Montblanc-NUS (National University of Singapore) Centre for the Arts Literary Awards was established, a further boost to the local literary scene. The annual prize was awarded to five local writers: two for English works and one each for Chinese, Malay and Tamil works. Luxury brand Montblanc sponsored the awards for three years. Winners received an award certificate and a limited edition Montblanc pen.10 The awards took into account the wider career of the writer and the less tangible contributions such as conducting writing workshops, seminar presentations and leading writing associations.11
In 2015, local publisher Epigram Books launched the Epigram Books Fiction Prize with a cash prize of S$20,000 – the largest in Singapore – and a publishing contract with Epigram. Open to Singaporeans, permanent residents and locally born writers, the award is for unpublished English-language novels. The inaugural prize was awarded to O Thiam Chin for his novel, The Infinite Sea.12 In 2016, the prize money was increased to S$25,000 for the winner, and three other finalists each received a cash prize of S$5,000.13
Designed to promote local Chinese literature, the Chinese newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau inaugurated the Golden Lion Literary Awards (金狮奖) in 1981. There were only two categories then: fiction and prose.14 After Nanyang Siang Pau was merged with Sin Chew Jit Poh, the resultant entities Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao took over as organisers. More categories such as poetry and playwriting were added in subsequent years.15 By 1991, the biennial award was co-organised by Singapore Press Holdings and the Singapore Association of Writers.16 In 1993, this writing competition for Chinese-language writers, the biggest of its kind, became open to citizens of other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, sparking debate as to whether it was a boon or a bane for the competition.17
In 1999, the Singapore Tertiary Literature Awards (新加坡大专文学奖) was set up to promote Chinese-language creative writing and to nurture local Chinese writers.18 The Singapore Literature Society has also been presenting various literary awards, including the two established awards – Singapore Chinese Literature Award (新华文学奖) and Lien Shih Sheng Award (连士升文学奖) – to provide acknowledgement and recognition of local Chinese-language writers.19 Another Chinese literary award is the Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Chinese Literature Award (南洋华文文学奖).20 The Hokkien Huay Kuan also organises or sponsors literary awards to promote Chinese literature and reading among youths.21
In recognition of Malay literary works, the Malay Literary Prize (Hadiah Sastera) was initiated by Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 (ASAS ’50; Singapore Writers’ Movement ’50) in 1975.22 ASAS ’50 conceived the idea for the award in August 1973, and the first awards were presented in 1975 after ASAS ’50 set up the Joint Literary Award Committee with 19 other Malay associations.23
After an eight-year hiatus, the literary awards returned to the scene in 1993.24 Now known as the Anugerah Persuratan (Literary Awards), the Malay Language Council has been organising the biannual event since 1993.25 The council launched three awards in 1993: the prestigious Tun Seri Lanang Award, Hadiah Sastera and Hadiah Sayembara (Competition Awards).26 The Tun Seri Lanang Award recognises an outstanding literary figure who has extensively contributed to, and enriched, the Malay literary scene. The first recipient of the award was Muhammad Ariff Ahmad.27 The Hadiah Sastera spans the genres from poetry to drama (theatre, radio, television, film) to literary criticism. The Hadiah Sayembara was awarded to winning unpublished literary works but was discontinued in 1995, citing other existing similar competitions. That year, the posthumous Anumerta Tun Seri Lanang was added to the awards.28 In 2009, a new Malay literary award for recognising promising individuals, Anugerah Harapan (Promising Award), was included. It is aimed at people under the age of 40 who actively promote Malay literature.29
One of the annual highlights of the Tamil literary scene is the presentation of the Thamizhavel Virudhu (Thamizhavel Award) to an outstanding individual in the literary field by the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers. Named after the founder of local Tamil newspaper Tamil Murasu, Thamizhavel G. Sarangapani, the first award presentation was held in 1988 but was discontinued the following year due to a lack of sponsorship. It was relaunched in 1996 during the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers’ 20th-anniversary celebration.30 Another prize disbursed by the association is the Kannadasan Award, which is given out to young writers who have excelled in any one aspect of written Tamil literature.31
1. Girvin, M., & Jayapal, M. (1978). National Book Development Council of Singapore, 1969–1978. Singapore: National Book Development Council, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 028.0625957 NAT-[LIB])
2. $10,000 prize launched to nurture creative writing in English. (1991, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2017). Singapore Literature Prize. Retrieved 2017, August 17 from NBDCS website: http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/singapore-literature-prize
4. Ong, S. F. (1999, March 4). Sponsor pulls out of SLP awards. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lye, J. (2000, March 8). New literature prize launched. The Straits Times, p. 3; Chow, C. (2004, September 25). Literature prize makes comeback. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chow, C. (2004, September 25). Literature prize makes comeback. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Nanda, A. (2014, October 7). Lit Prize not on same page as publishers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS). (2017). Singapore Literature Prize. Retrieved 2017, August 17, from NBDCS website: http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/singapore-literature-prize
8. Time to find the write stuff as awards beckon. (2003, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Yap, S. (2007, May 4). New rule for Golden Point. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. New prize for writers here. (1996, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Seah, L. (1996, August 24). Veteran writer wins inaugural literary award. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Nabilah Said. (2015, September 1). 68 writers, including O Thiam Chin, submit manuscripts to inaugural Epigram fiction prize. The Straits Times; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2015, November 1). O Thiam Chin wins inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
13. Nabilah Said. (2016, November 24). First-time author Nuraliah Norasid wins $25,000 Epigram book prize. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
14. 主办文艺创作赛鼓励写作风气 南洋商报设金狮奖 [Nanyang Siang Pau initiated Golden Lion Literary Award to promote literary writing]. (1981, May 31). 《南洋商报》[Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. [Untitled]. (1984, June 1). 《联合早报》 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 41; 钟文苓宣布 下届金狮奖 增诗歌项目 [Zhong Wenling announced that poetry category will be added in the next Golden Lion Literary Award]. (1985, January 8). 《联合晚报》 [Lianhe Wanbao], p. 4; Playwriting a new category in Lianhe’s Golden Lion. (1989, January 9). The New Paper, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Literary award winners. (1991, June 4). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Goh, B. C. (1993, February 9). Awards open to more. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Singapore Tertiary Chinese Literature Awards (STCLA). (2017). 简介 [Introduction]. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from STCLA website: https://www.stcla.org/intro
19. Singapore Literature Society. (2016, November 21). 第九届新华文学奖暨第四届连士升文学奖颁奖典礼 [The 9th Xinhua Literature Award and the Fourth Lien Shih Sheng Award Ceremony]. Retrieved 2017, September 2 from Singapore Literature Society website: http://sgcls.hi2net.com/news_read.asp?NewsID=17840
20. Goh, B. C. (1993, February 9). Awards open to more. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Confucius Institute, NTU. (2016). 第四届‘南洋华文文学奖 [Fourth Nanyang Chinese Literature Award]. Retrieved 21 October 2017 from Confucius Institute website: http://ci.ntu.edu.sg/chi/NewsnEvents/Pages/Events-Detailed.aspx?event=4d9205a8-d865-4d1f-a9b1-773008c060c0
21. Singapore Hokkian Huay Kuan (SHHK). (n.d.). Literary awards. Retrieved 2017, September 2 from SHHK website: http://www.shhk.com.sg/literary-awards/
22. Angkatan Sasterawan. ’50. (2012). About. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from ASAS ’50 website: http://asas50.com/about/
23. Majlis Bahasa Melayu Singapura. (2016). Anugerah Persuratan 2015 Commemorative Magazine. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from ASAS ’50 website: http://mbms.sg/en/sumber/anugerah-persuratan; Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1993, February 20). New hope for Malay literature? The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Welcome boost for literature. (1992, December 8). The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Majlis Bahasa Melayu Singapura. (2016). Anugerah Persuratan. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from Malay Language Council website: http://mbms.sg/en/anugerah-persuratan/anugerah-persuratan
26. Tuminah Sapawi. (1992, December 10). Boost for Malay writing. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Tuminah Sapawi. (1992, December 10). Boost for Malay writing. The Straits Times, p. 36; Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1993, February 20). New hope for Malay literature? The Straits Times, p. 11; Muhammad Ariff first to win prestigious Malay literary award. (1993, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Angkatan Sasterawan ’50. (2016). Anugerah Persuratan 2015 Commemorative Magazine. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from ASAS ’50 website: http://mbms.sg/en/sumber/anugerah-persuratan; Tuminah Sapawi. (1992, December 10). Boost for Malay writing. The Straits Times, p. 36; Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1993, February 20). New hope for Malay literature? The Straits Times, p. 11; Posthumous award for Malay literary works. (1995, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Chia, A. (2009, March 6). New award for Malay writers. The Straits Times, p. 63. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Association of Singapore Tamil Writers. (n.d.). Thamizhavel Virudhu. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from Association of Singapore Tamil Writers website: http://singaporetamilwriters.com/tamilvelviruthu/; Sankaran, R. (1997, May 2). Literary prizes for Tamil hero. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mani, A. (2016). Fifty years of Singapore Tamil Literature. In G. Pillai & K. Kesavapany (Eds.), 50 years of Indian community in Singapore. Singapore; Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific. (Call no.: RSING 305.89141105957 FIF); National Arts Council. Singapore Writers Festival 2013. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/media-resources/press-releases/Singapore-Writers-Festival-2013.html
31. Association of Singapore Tamil Writers. (n.d.). Kannadasan Virithu. Retrieved 2017, October 21 from Association of Singapore Tamil Writers website: http://singaporetamilwriters.com/kannadasanviruthu/
The information in this article is valid as at 5 December 2017 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.