The Singapore Prize is a biennial award program for works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry in the four official languages of Singapore — Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil. This year, for the first time in the prize’s history, the literary competition returned to a physical format and offered 12 top prizes across the categories of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
The prize aims to recognise writings that broaden the definition of Singapore’s history and culture, from new writers as well as established authors. Kishore Mahbubani, the NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow who mooted the prize in a Straits Times column, says: “As American social historian Benedict Anderson suggested, nations are largely imaginaries — a shared imagination that holds societies together.”
This year’s winners, selected by an independent panel of judges, will be announced at a ceremony next month. Two of the shortlisted authors will receive a reader’s choice prize, and one of those will be awarded a special prize by a panel of judges for an outstanding work. The judges for the nonfiction category include a professor of Asian studies and contemporary Southeast Asian literature, an associate professor of modern Japanese culture, and a writer. The shortlist for the poetry category includes three leading female poets.
Founded by philanthropists, the Singapore Prize is designed to propel winners to further develop their ideas and to implement them at a greater scale. The awards will also honor organisations that are leading the way in green growth.
The winner of the Singapore prize for poetry will be rewarded with a cash prize of $588. In addition, the winner of the Singapore prize for fiction will get $1,000 and the winner of the Singapore prize for nonfiction will get $500. In the event of a tie, a winner will be chosen by a panel of judges.
Last year, the competition was criticised for a lack of diversity among the winners and runners-up. Poet Grace Chia, whose collection Cordelia was shortlisted but did not win in the English poetry category, delivered a speech at an awards ceremony in absentia at the 2014 Singapore Writers Festival in which she accused the prize of sexism. She posted the speech on Facebook before subsequently removing it.
This year, five writers were shortlisted for multiple categories, including Clara Chow, who was nominated in the English fiction and English creative nonfiction categories as well as the Chinese poetry category. It is the first time in the prize’s history that a single writer has made it onto the final shortlist for more than one category. The final shortlist for the 2022 prize will be announced on 25 August. You can view the full list of shortlisted books and their authors here.