SINGAPORE LITERATURE PRIZE

Separate originals from translations

The Singapore Literature Prize 2016 announced its shortlist on May 11 and I was surprised to see that the English fiction and nonfiction categories included two translated works: The Widower, written by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed and translated by Alfian Sa'at, and In Time, Out Of Place, written by Tham Yew Chin and translated by Shelly Bryant.

I find this perplexing, given that the prizehas four language categories.

The Singapore Literature Prize celebrates original literary work, not translated work. This is not to say that translations are lesser enterprises but, to be fair to both authors and translators, translated works should be judged in their own category.

This explains why notable literary competitions such as the Man Booker Prize have a rule that no English translation of a novel written originally in any other language is eligible.

Our nation's top literary prize ought to be benchmarked against the framework of such prestigious awards.


The Widower (above).

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Lee Seow Ser


Support Singapore literary works

It is heartening to learn that Singapore literary works are gaining support in the online article Singapore's Literary Scene Enjoying Revival on May 17.

We tend to cast aspersions on works written by people closer to home because many believe that quality works written in English can come from only places where English is the native tongue. Non-native speakers just do not make the cut in terms of "correct" use of the language. 

It does not help that schools choose classics from afar for literature classes.

Despite these prejudices, I urge readers to support home-grown writers for the simple fact that they are our own. If we do not support our own, who would?

Lee Teck Chuan

Lee Jian Xuan's article highlighted the conundrum of Singaporean audiences remaining relatively disengaged despite the local literary renaissance.

Singlit is often misunderstood as literature about Singapore instead of what it should be: literature written by Singaporeans. There is still a distinct undercurrent that Singaporean works should have historical or contemporary local flavour and, at times, Singlish has been used less like a paintbrush and more like a sledgehammer.

Mr Peter Schoppert, president of the Singapore Book Publishers Association, was quoted as saying that "we should avoid feeling like Singapore readers and writers are obligated to engage with Singapore literature. We've to come up with good books and make sure they're rewarding, challenging and pleasurable".

As an author and reader, I have noticed positive steps in this direction. Three of the four novels on the shortlist of the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize had local settings, but the winner was the only story set outside Singapore (O Thiam Chin's novel Now That It's Over, set in a tsunami-ravaged town in Thailand).

Likewise, prior to 2013, the National Arts Council's Arts Creation Fund sought "new Asian works by Singapore creators" that had to "explore Asian subject matter". After it was rebranded as the Creation Grant, the Asian requirement was removed, allowing a wider scope of creativity.

While capturing our unique history and multicultural landscape is important, it is only a subset of the overarching objective of creating quality literary works by Singaporean writers - regardless of setting and unfettered by the expectation that we should read or write stories about Singapore or Asia simply because it is supposedly what we know best.

SherMay Loh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Separate originals from translations'. Print Edition | Subscribe