First-time novelist wins richest Singapore literary prize

Epigram Books Fiction Prize winner Yeoh Jo-Ann (in green), with the three other finalists: (from left) Anittha Thanabalan, May Seah and Lu Huiyi. Ms Yeoh won $25,000 while the other finalists received $5,000 each. All four will have their novels publ
Epigram Books Fiction Prize winner Yeoh Jo-Ann (in green), with the three other finalists: (from left) Anittha Thanabalan, May Seah and Lu Huiyi. Ms Yeoh won $25,000 while the other finalists received $5,000 each. All four will have their novels published by Epigram next year.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Novel about a teacher who meets a woman from his past who is homeless praised for its sensitivity

Singapore's richest literary prize went yesterday to first-time novelist Yeoh Jo-Ann.

The 36-year-old, a client operations director with a digital marketing agency, won the $25,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize for her manuscript, Impractical Uses Of Cake, in which a man has his life turned upside down after he finds a woman from his past homeless and living in a cardboard box.

"It is a very unusual novel for the sensitivity and tact with which it handles a very complex human situation with a very interesting narrator and an even more interesting female protagonist. It reveals a whole side of Singapore that many people in Singapore may not be aware of, with a dry sense of humour and a deep understanding of human difficulties and the problems faced by Singapore as an urban centre," said Professor Rajeev S. Patke, director of the humanities division at Yale-NUS College, who was one of the judges.

It is the fourth award for unpublished English-language novels given by local publisher Epigram Books.

The annual prize is now open to Singapore citizens, permanent residents and Singapore-born authors.

But Epigram founder Edmund Wee, 66, announced at yesterday's gala dinner at the Conrad Centennial Singapore hotel that from next year, the prize will be open to writers from other Asean countries, as a way to reach out to more people.

  • $25k

    Prize money for winning the Epigram Books Fiction Prize

Participants from these countries must either be citizens or permanent residents of the country they represent and submissions must be in English or translated into English.

This year's shortlist was the award's first all-female one. All four finalists were first-time novelists.

"Writing is a very solitary process but it showed me who my friends were," Ms Yeoh said in her thank-you speech. She plans to use the $25,000 prize money to travel and finish her next book.

 

Ms Yeoh beat Singapore Management University postgraduate student Lu Huiyi, 28; freelance writer and English literature tutor Anittha Thanabalan, 29; and Channel News Asia senior digital lifestyle journalist May Seah, 33. The three runners-up will get $5,000 each and also have their novels published next year.

This year's judges included Mr Wee, Singapore Literature Prize-winning author Suchen Christine Lim, Prof Patke, and children's book author Linda Locke.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2018, with the headline 'First-time novelist wins richest S'pore literary prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe