Singapore author wins American book award

Desmond Kon.
Desmond Kon.

Singaporean author and artist Desmond Kon has clinched an independent publishing award for his book Babel Via Negativa, which was published here last year .

He won a Gold in the Poetry category at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, which were given out by the Independent Book Publishers Association in the United States last Friday.

These "honour the best in indie publishing across a variety of fiction and non-fiction categories for children and adults", according to a press statement issued by the association.

The 44-year-old bachelor is the first Singaporean to win this accolade.

Babel Via Negativa is co-published by publisher Ethos Books and Kon's own literary press Squircle Line Press. It is a book of experimental writing, including essays, poetry, hybrid scriptings and texts written like tweets.

It beat two other books - Become A Message: Poems by Hungarian poet Lajos Walder (Upper West Side Philosophers) and Orbital Paths: Poems by American poet Richard Meyer (Science Thrillers Media).

Kon tells The Straits Times that he is "floored and humbled" by the win. He says: "It's taken quite a long time for contemporary poetics to accept experimental writing, much less recognise such work... Perhaps it was the sheer ambition of the collection, in trying to jam so many different styles, forms, genres and traditions, that got it noticed by the judges."

Kon, who has a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University Of Notre Dame in the United States, was trained in book publishing at Stanford University in the US. He has produced an epistolary novel, two hybrid works and six poetry collections so far.

He is a writer-in-residence at the Nanyang Technological University this year.

Earlier last month, he also won in seven categories at the USA Regional Excellence Book Awards, which "recognise and reward excel- lence in books that take readers into the heart of a 'place', delivering the experience of a locale".

The awards are open to works in English and are given out to works that mention or allude to regions in the US.

Kon's wins include Sanctus Sanctus Dirgha Sanctus (Poetry, Midwest region), Singular Acts Of Endearment (Adult Fiction, Northeast region) and Eye/Feel/Write: Experiments In Writing (Anthology, South-west region). Babel Via Negativa also won for Spirituality in the North-east region.

He has just released a poetry collection, titled Thirty-Seven Reasons Red Is Rad, and will publish another poetry collection later this year, titled Mirror Image Mirage.

• Babel Via Negativa retails at $21.50 and is available at ethosbooks.com.sg and squirclelinepress.org


Correction note: An earlier version of this story stated that Desmond Kon is a writer-in-residence at the Nanyang Technological University this year, alongside Singaporean writer Yeo Wei Wei, Malaysian author Tash Aw and American novelist Nicholson Baker. This has been changed to: He is a writer-in-residence at the Nanyang Technological University this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore author wins American book award'. Print Edition | Subscribe