LIFE POWER LIST 2015

Starting Singapore's biggest literary award

12) MR EDMUND WEE, 63, publisher, Epigram Books

For putting his money where his mouth is - starting the $20,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize, Singapore's richest literary award - publisher Edmund Wee scores a slot on this year's Life Power List.

This marks the fourth time that Mr Wee, who is 63 and married with two children, has made the list. He debuted on the list in 2011 for reprinting classic Singapore works and publishing the best new local plays.

Since then, he has become a steadfast champion of Singapore literature, ramping up output at his Epigram Books imprint, which brought out 40 titles in the past year, including Sonny Liew's controversial graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, widely recognised as this year's best work of Singapore fiction.

With the new prize announced in March, Mr Wee has shaken up the literary scene here again.

At $20,000, the annual prize is double that of the government-supported and biennial $10,000 Singapore Literature Prize. It is the only prize here to be given to an unpublished English-language novel and is open to submissions from Singaporeans, permanent residents and those born here.

Mr Wee says: "We felt the recognition for writing is not as high here as that for other art forms, which have so many prizes.

"In the United States and the United Kingdom, there is respect for writers. We need to move along that path and raise the level of the profession."

The prize was awarded last month to Singaporean writer O Thiam Chin, who beat three others - authors Balli Kaur Jaswal and Sebastian Sim and playwright Wong Souk Yee.

His novel, The Infinite Sea, about two couples torn apart when a tsunami hits Thailand, will be published by Epigram Books in March. Jaswal, Sim and Wong's works are due out in April.

The road to good intentions, however, is paved with rising costs and thinning profit margins.

Mr Wee admits that his imprint still runs at a loss, while his design and page-setting firm Epigram, has dipped into the red in recent years.

He believes a turnaround will come and is looking for investors who share his vision. But he emphasises that publishers can do only so much.

"The prize encourages writers to submit their works, but the Government and public must support local literature by buying the books. If not, they are as good as stillborn," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Starting Singapore's biggest literary award'. Print Edition | Subscribe