Ho Minfong (b. 7 January 1951, Myanmar–), is an award-winning author of literature for children and young adults.1 Ho won the Cultural Medallion Award, the highest arts accolade in Singapore, in 1997.2 Although Ho is a Singaporean, she has spent most of her life abroad, living in Thailand, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia and the United States, and using these places as settings for her stories.3 She is currently based in the United States.4
Although a Singaporean, Ho had spent most of her life living abroad.5 Her father, Ho Rih Hwa, was an economist and diplomat, while her mother, Li Lienfung, was a chemist and writer.6 Raised in Thailand in an idyllic countryside, Ho had a pleasant childhood that impressed deeply on her adult life and her writing career.7 She considers Chinese as her first language, because as a child, her China-born parents had communicated to her both chidingly and lovingly in Chinese. As she grew older, Ho picked up Thai from the busy streets, marketplaces and temple fairs of Bangkok. She learned English only later on in school.8
Ho was educated in schools in Bangkok and then in Taiwan.9 She went on to study economics at Cornell University, USA, where she earned her Bachelor's and a Master's degrees. Her writing career began at Cornell, when she penned her thoughts to overcome homesickness.10 A compendium of notes about what she missed about home became the basis of her first book, Sing to the Dawn, which was published in 1975.11 Upon graduating from Cornell, Ho returned to Singapore and stayed there for some time.12
Ho has juggled several professions – as a Straits Times journalist, a lecturer at the University of Chiangmai, Thailand and the first Writer-in-Residence, University of Singapore (1984).13 She married an environmental consultant and lived in Asia, Switzerland and the United States, where she is currently based and is a permanent resident. Though she felt comfortable living in Singapore, she did not really regard Singapore as her home. Winning Singapore's Cultural Medallion Award in 1997, however reinforced her local roots.14
Ho’s first book, Sing to the Dawn, has become a staple literature text for secondary students in Singapore.15 It was staged as a musical during the 1996 Singapore Arts Festival by Singapore Repertory Theatre, and was the first local production to open the Singapore Arts Festival.16 In 2012, the novella returned to the stage with a performance by I Theatre.17 Ho is also recognised in the United States where she won the prestigious American Library Association’s (ALA) Caldecott Honour Award for her picture book, Hush! in June 1997.18
In 2008, a full-length English-language animated feature film adaptation of Sing to the Dawn was released.19
Prizes and awards
1975: First Prize, Council on Inter-racial Books for Children, New York for Sing to the Dawn.20
1982: First Prize, Ministry of Culture Short Story Writing Competition for Tanjong Rhu & Other Stories.21
1983: First Prize, Annual Short Story Contest, Asiaweek Magazine for The Clay Marble.22
1987: Second, Prose Section, Commonwealth Book Awards.
1988: First Prize, National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award for Fiction.23
1990: Parents’ Choice Award (USA) and ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice for Rice Without Rain.
1991: Best Book for Young Adults, American Library Association.24
1991: New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age Award.
1992: American Bookseller Pick of the List Notable Children's Trade Books in the Language Arts for The Clay Marble.
1992: Hungry Mind Reviews Children’s Book of Distinction for The Clay Marble.25
1996: Southeast Asia Write Award, Thailand.26
1997: Horn Book Fanfare, Children’s Book of Distinction, American Library Association, Caldecott Honour Book Award for Hush! 27
1997: Montblanc-NUS Centre For The Arts Literary Award.28
1997: Cultural Medallion Award.29
1975: Sing to the Dawn.30
1986: Tanjong Rhu & Other Stories.31
1986: Rice Without Rain.
1992: The Clay Marble.
1996: Hush!: A Thai Lullaby.
2003: The Stone Goddess.
2004: Peek!: A Thai Hide-and-Seek.32
2008: Journeys: An anthology of short stories33
Father: Late ambassador and businessman, Ho Rih Hwa.
Mother: Late Li Lienfung, writer and former columnist of Bamboo Green, a long-running bilingual column in The Straits Times.
Brothers: Ho Kwon Ping, businessman, and Ho Kwon Cjan, architect.
Husband: John Dennis, an environmental consultant and currently lives in Ithaca, New York.
Children: Danfung, Tingfung (a.k.a. Christopher), and Mary Xiaofeng (or Shaofung).
1. “Minfong Ho,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, accessed 14 December 2016.
2. L. Seah, “A Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad – Now I Better Get Cracking on That S’pore Novel,” Straits Times, 30 August 1997, 2. (Microfilm NL20198)
3. Seah, “Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad”; Koh Buck Song, “The Haunting of Ho Minfong,” Straits Times, 22 February 1992, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Biography: Minfong Ho,” Authors Guild, accessed 14 December 2016.
5. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, “Minfong Ho”; Koh Buck Song, “Haunting of Ho Minfong.”
6. Seah, “Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad”; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, “Minfong Ho.”
7. Sumiko Tan, “From Tomboy and Tomato Picker to Writer,” Straits Times, 29 November 1986, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
9. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, “Minfong Ho.”
10. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, “Minfong Ho.”
11. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
12. Seah, “Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad.”
13. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
14. Seah, “Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad.”
15. Ho Ai Li, “Sing to the Dawn Is Being Animated,” Straits Times, 5 December 2003, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Before Sing To The Dawn, There Was a Bridge and a Brother,” (1996, May 8). Straits Times, 8 May 1996, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Akshita Nanda, A. (2018, July 29). “SRT Founder Tony Petito Dies at 68,” Straits Times, 29 July 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
17. Mayo Martin, “This Adaptation Goes Through an Awkward Teenage Phase,” Today, 8 March 2012, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Seah, “Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad.”
19. Geneieve Loh, “A Heart-Warming Dawn,” Today, 31 October 2008, 52. (From m NewspaperSG)
20. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, “Minfong Ho.”
21. Jacintha Abisheganaden, “Portraits of a Writer,” Straits Times, 28 June 1983, 1; “S'pore Writer Chalks Up Another Success,” Straits Times, 6 September 1987, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “S'pore Writer Chalks Up Another Success”; Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
23. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
24. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, “Minfong Ho.”
25. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
26. Low Kar Tiang, ed., Who’s Who in Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., 2003), 154. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)
27. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
28. Ong Sor Fern, “No Money for Five, But Award Is Symbol of Recognition,” Straits Times, 29 October 1997, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Seah, “Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad.”
30. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
31. Abisheganaden, “Portraits of a Writer.”
32. Authors Guild, “Minfong Ho.”
33. Ho Minfong, Journeys: An Anthology of Short Stories (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2008). (Call no. RSING 823.22 HO)
34. Seah, “Singapore Daughter Recognized Abroad”; Richard Havis, “Author Minfong Ho's Work in Refugee Camps Informs Her Acclaimed Novels,” South China Morning Post, 5 March 2013; “Ho Minfong,” The Esplanade Co Ltd., accessed 23 October 2018.
The information in this article is valid as at October 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.