Wang Gungwu, Suratman Markasan, both 91, are Singapore Literature Prize's oldest winners

Historian Wang Gungwu and literary pioneer Suratman Markasan topped the English and Malay creative non-fiction categories this year. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO, BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - Historian Wang Gungwu and literary pioneer Suratman Markasan, both 91, have become the oldest people to win the Singapore Literature Prize.

Wang's memoir Home Is Where We Are, and Suratman's essay collection Mengasah Kalam Jilid 2 (Honing The Pen Volume 2), topped the English and Malay creative non-fiction categories this year.

They broke a record previously held by Chin Kah Chong, who was 85 when his Chinese creative non-fiction work, LKY Whom I Knew, won in 2016.

The winners of what is Singapore's oldest ongoing literary prize in all four official languages were announced at a ceremony in Victoria Theatre on Thursday (Aug 25).

Home Is Where We Are, which spans 20 years and begins with Wang's time at the University of Malaya, is the second part of his memoirs. He wrote it with his wife Margaret Wang, who died before the book was launched.

"She didn't live long enough to see the book appear, so I'm very sad about that," says Wang, who is known for his research on Chinese history.

He adds that his wife would have been delighted by the win: "I am very surprised. All my life, I have been writing non-fiction. But no one described it as creative."

This year, 49 works were shortlisted across 12 categories - fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction in Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil.

Yeow Kai Chai, former director of the Singapore Writers Festival, came up tops in the English poetry category for One To The Dark Tower Comes.

The 54-year-old says: "I know my poetry is not commercial, or not the most mainstream, not the most literal. But I think the scene is changing, and there's more appetite for different ways of approaching poetry. I didn't expect to win at all... I knew I was left of centre, but I think there are more listeners now."

Poet Yeow Kai Chai's new collection, One To The Dark Tower Comes, is a dark, dense journey through grief and self-discovery. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Meanwhile, New York-based poet Jee Leong Koh won the English fiction category for Snow At 5pm: Translations Of An Insignificant Japanese Poet, a hybrid of haiku and prose.

Speaking over the phone, the 52-year-old, whose poetry collection Connor & Seal was also shortlisted, says: "Being awarded this prize has given me great encouragement that such hybrid works could receive recognition, and that there's certainly a place for such works to push the boundaries of what we know."

"Certainly, I could not have written Snow At 5pm without having made my life at New York City. For me, it is less a global novel and more a love poem in some way to New York City."

He plans to donate his winnings to the Transformative Justice Collective, an organisation dedicated to reforming Singapore's criminal punishment system.

Poet Jee Leong Koh's Snow At 5pm: Translations Of An Insignificant Japanese Poet, is a hybrid of haiku and prose. PHOTOS: ST FILE, GAUDY BOY

Wang, Suratman, Koh and Yeow are all first-time winners.

Yeow’s book, published in 2020, was his first poetry collection in about 15 years. It follows from his earlier volume, Pretend I'm Not Here (2006).

The Singapore Literature Prize, established in 1992, is a biennial award organised by the Singapore Book Council (SBC).

The 12 winners each received $3,000, as well as a trophy and a gift code to audiobook platform Storytel.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, the guest of honour, also presented literary pioneer Edwin Thumboo with an SBC Achievement Award.

The Readers' Favourite awards, determined by public vote - 4,464 votes in total - went to Ali bin Salim, Daryl Qilin Yam, Pan Cheng Lui and Rama Suresh, who won $1,000 each.

There were 35 judges this year, including novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal, poet Yong Shu Hoong, and National Library Board assistant chief executive Gene Tan.

List of winners and nominees

Fiction in English

Jee Leong Koh, Snow At 5pm: Translations Of An Insignificant Japanese Poet - Winner

Clara Chow, Not Great, But At Least Something

Mallika Naguran, She Never Looks Quite Back

Cyril Wong, This Side Of Heaven

Daryl Qilin Yam, Shantih Shantih Shantih

Poetry in English

Yeow Kai Chai, One To The Dark Tower Comes - Winner

Jee Leong Koh, Connor & Seal: A Harlem Story In 47 Poems

Daryl Lim Wei Jie, Anything But Human

Mok Zining, The Orchid Folios

Pooja Nansi, We Make Spaces Divine

Creative non-fiction in English

Wang Gungwu, Home Is Where We Are - Winner

Clara Chow, New Orleans

Kagan Goh, Surviving Samsara: A Memoir Of Breakdowns, Breakthroughs, And Mental Illness

Nilanjana Sengupta, The Votive Pen: Writings On Edwin Thumboo

Fiction in Chinese

Xi Ni Er (Chia Hwee Pheng), Sound of the Tides @ Tanah Merah - Winner

Choo Woon Hock, The Fading Camel Bells

Ri Luo Dong (Tan Guang Sen), Another Day of No Fishing

Poetry in Chinese

Yu Fan, Unable To Classify - Winner

Chew Thean Phai, Isle Of Pie

Clara Chow, Lousy Love Poems

Lee Hock Ming, Poetry@Chinese Characters

Tan Xi Zhe, A Personal Classic Of Mountains And Seas

Creative non-fiction in Chinese

Wong Koi Tet, Little Things - Winner

Shicheng Xiaoguzhu (Hu Jiancheng), Diary Of The Singapore Circuit Breaker

Lee Chun Hsien, The Gentle Art Of Teaching

Pan Cheng Lui, The Sun Just Past Mid-afternoon

Yap Seow Choong, 12345

Fiction in Malay

Farihan Bahron, Kepala Kotak - Winner

Djohan bin Abdul Rahman, Interlud

Maarof Salleh, Bara

Mohamed Naguib Ngadnan, Saudagar Pagar (Kumpulan Cerpen)

Poetry in Malay

Hartinah binte Ahmad,Gandoura - Winner

Farihan Bahron, Tang Ke Ting

H.B. Johar, Perahu Sudah Dipecahkan Khidir

Muhammad Khairool Haque, Anak Waktu Belajar Diam

Creative non-fiction in Malay

Suratman Markasan, Mengasah Kalam Jilid 2 - Winner

Ali bin Salim, Kampong Keranji 1948 -1973

Suratman Markasan, Mengapa Saya Menulis

Fiction in Tamil

Rama Suresh, The sky, atmosphere/ infinite space, either, as one of the elements - Winner

Ganeshbabu, Friends Of Sunlight

Indrajit, Rail

Manimala Mathialagan, Tea

Pon Sundararaju, Lime Rice

Poetry in Tamil

Inbha, Layang Layang Bird Tweets - Winner

Balu Manimaran, 14th Floor Residents

Balu Manimaran, Little Moments Of Love

Creative non-fiction in Tamil

Azhagunila, Dream Through Language - Winner

Rama Kannabiran, Singapore Tamil Short Stories

Segar S/O Muniandy, The Multifarious Views Of Writing

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