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."
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.
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
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