Sponsorship secured for Epigram Books Fiction Prize, 10 on longlist

(Clockwise from top left) Among the authors longlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize are Judith Huang, Sebastian Sim, Carissa Foo, Tham Cheng-E, Akshita Nanda and Andre Yeo.
(Clockwise from top left) Among the authors longlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize are Judith Huang, Sebastian Sim, Carissa Foo, Tham Cheng-E, Akshita Nanda and Andre Yeo. PHOTOS: EPIGRAM BOOKS

Its fate was uncertain earlier this year, but Singapore's richest literary prize will be pulling together for a third edition, thanks to major private sponsors.

The Epigram Books Fiction Prize, Singapore's only prize for unpublished English-language novels, has released its longlist of 10 authors who will vie for the $25,000 top prize.

Epigram Books founder Edmund Wee had earlier expressed concerns to The Straits Times that sponsors were less forthcoming for the prize. Epigram had turned to crowdfunding for it, although as of July, it was less than halfway to raising the money needed.

Now, two key corporate sponsors have come forward: the Lee Foundation, a first-time donor, and Epigram's landlord, Mapletree Investments, which is supporting the prize for a second time.

Mapletree Investments' head of group corporate services Wan Kwong Weng said he thinks the prize has grown from strength to strength. "As Singapore becomes more mature as a society, local literature will add to the spice of life and, hopefully, the tapestry of our society."

The longlist features two familiar names: office executive Sebastian Sim, 51, who was shortlisted in 2015 for comic novel Let's Give It Up For Gimme Lao! and architect Tham Cheng-E, 38, shortlisted last year for speculative thriller Surrogate Protocol.

But most of the longlisted authors - chosen from 47 submissions - are newcomers to fiction, the youngest being 19-year-old national serviceman Teo Xue Shen.

Some are known for their writing in other fields, such as journalists Akshita Nanda, 38, who is an arts correspondent at The Straits Times; and The New Paper assistant news editor Andre Yeo, 45.

Also in the running is poet Judith Huang, 31, a three-time winner of Britain's Foyle Young Poet Of The Year award for poets under 18.

Other fresh faces taking a crack at the prize include copywriter Cheryl Chen, 35; Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) College lecturer Carissa Foo, 30; private tutor Khor Kuan Liang, 28; and economics adviser Lim Su-Min, 29.

The prize, which awards $25,000 to the winner and $5,000 to each of the other three finalists, is open to all Singapore citizens, permanent residents and Singapore-born authors. The shortlist will be revealed next month and the winner announced at an award ceremony and gala dinner on Nov 23.

Mr Wee, 65, said that picking the shortlist would not be easy. "We are encouraged by the number of high quality entries despite it being the third run of the prize," he said.

Apart from him, the other judges for this year's prize are Singapore Literature Prize-winning poet Cyril Wong, NUS associate professor Barbara Ryan and Pamela Ho, editor of The A List, a monthly arts and culture magazine published by the National Arts Council.

The first winner of the prize, Now That It's Over by O Thiam Chin in 2015, has sold 1,575 copies; while the second, The Gatekeeper by Nuraliah Norasid last year, has sold 980 copies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2017, with the headline '10 authors on longlist for Epigram fiction prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe