Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, acclaimed Malay-language poet and novelist, dies at 72

The late author received the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest accolade for the arts, in 2013. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

SINGAPORE – Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, a heavyweight in Singapore’s Malay literary scene, has died at the age of 72.

The acclaimed poet and novelist died in his sleep of natural causes in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday, his daughter-in-law Rita Zuhaida Mohamed Nazeer told The Straits Times.

Mohamed Latiff won the Singapore Literature Prize three times between 2004 and 2008 for his poetry collections Bagiku Sepilah Sudah (For Me, Loneliness) and Bila Rama-Rama Patah Sayapnya (When The Butterfly Cracks Its Wings), as well as the short story collection Nostalgia Yang Hilang (Lost Nostalgia). He was active in the regional writers’ group Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.

In 2013, he received the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest accolade for the arts.

He started writing as a 16-year-old student at Tun Seri Lanang Secondary School. His first poem, Kepincangan (Handicaps), was published in the school magazine.

In his bold, frank works, the late author often explored the lives and struggles of the Malay community in post-independence Singapore.

He gained a reputation, in the 1970s and 1980s, for being an “angry writer”. In a 2013 interview, he told The Straits Times, via an interpreter, that anger continued to fuel his writing.

“My sources of inspiration are society, my surroundings and the tragedies of human beings all over the world. How can we be happy in this world with the current situation? If I’m ever happy with how things are, I’ll stop writing,” he said then.

Mohamed Latiff was a Malay-language teacher and also worked as a specialist writer at the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore. He migrated to Melbourne in 2015, where he lived with his family, Malay daily Berita Harian reported.

Several of his works have been translated into English. These include his novel The Widower, translated by Alfian Sa’at in 2015, and his collection of short stories Lost Nostalgia, translated by Nazry Bahrawi in 2017.

The late author received the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest accolade for the arts, in 2013. PHOTO: ST FILE

Dr Nazry, 46, an academic and editor, says: “Mohamed Latiff was an institution within the Singapore Malay literary circle. His works are definitive, provocative and always pleasurable.”

On a personal note, he adds: “From my conversations with him, I’d found him to be generous and principled. He never tires of fighting the good fight. It was a real honour to know the man and his works.”

Mohamed Latiff’s younger son Mohamed Haikel Fansuri, 35, a marketing consultant based in Germany, said: “Although age had caught up with him physically, his passion and fire never wavered.”

The late author’s remains will be interred at the Maddingley General Cemetery in Victoria on Friday.

He is survived by his widow Jamaliah Md Noor, 69, sons Md Khairil, 48, and Mohamed Haikel, and two grandchildren aged 18 and five.

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