Three writers join NTU programme

Novelist Madeleine Thien, author Yeo Wei Wei and poet Pooja Nansi will conduct writing workshops and lectures under residency programme

(From far left) Poet Pooja Nansi, novelist Madeleine Thien and author Yeo Wei Wei.
(From left) Poet Pooja Nansi, novelist Madeleine Thien and author Yeo Wei Wei.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Three authors have been appointed writers-in-residence at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), under a scheme supported by the National Arts Council.

They are Canadian novelist Madeleine Thien, and Singaporean authors Yeo Wei Wei and Pooja Nansi.

Authors who have joined the writing residency programme, first mooted in 2011, include Malaysian author and Man Booker Prize nominee Tash Aw and Singaporean playwright Jean Tay.

The three writers will conduct creative writing workshops and lectures for NTU students and the public, while working on their own writing projects.

Thien, 41, who is not married but has a long-time partner, novelist Rawi Hage, was born to MalaysianChinese parents in Vancouver.

Her debut collection of short stories, Simple Recipes, was praised by fellow Canadian writer Alice Munro for its "clarity, ease of writing and emotional purity".

Her second novel, Dogs At The Perimeter, which explores the aftermath of the Cambodian genocide, was shortlisted for several literary prizes and has been translated into eight languages.

"I travelled to Cambodia regularly between 2007 and 2011 and stayed up to five months at a time. It was a book that I struggled with.

"It made me think very deeply about the nature and use of literature, the limits of language, and how fiction and non-fiction inhabit the reader," she tells Life in an e-mail interview.

Recently, her short story, The Wedding Cake, was shortlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award in Britain, which, at £30,000 (S$64,950), is the richest prize in the world for a single short story.

Before the NTU programme, she taught fiction in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programme at the University of British Columbia. She was also part of the international faculty at the City University of Hong Kong's MFA in Creative Writing programme.

The programme was shuttered in May, a controversial move that drew criticism from authors including Thien.

The university's official response that the programme ran a deficit and had low enrolment has since been disputed by its founder, Hong Kong-born author Xu Xi.

Thien says: "I wrote about the closure in The Guardian because I felt that, given the details that I knew and the extraordinary success of its students, the reasons should come under greater scrutiny."

Her upcoming book, Awake Now And Cross Towards Her, follows three musicians studying Western classical music in 1960s Shanghai. It will be published next year.

Yeo, who has a PhD in English from Cambridge, will publish her first collection of short stories, These Foolish Things & Other Stories, with Ethos Books later this year.

The 41-year-old, who contributes book reviews to The Straits Times, says: "I draw inspiration from everyday life, from the things I see around me. The stories revolve around love, longing and loss."

She looks forward to teaching creative writing, which she had done during a previous stint at the School of The Arts.

She is also working on a novel.

India-born poet Nansi, who is part of the spoken word and music duo The Mango Dollies, also hopes to spend more time writing during the residency. She has published two poetry collections: Stiletto Scars (2007) and Love Is An Empty Barstool (2013).

The 33-year-old says: "When I create a poem, I am as interested in what it looks like on the page as in what a performance can add to it. The same poem is different when read in a book or heard out loud, depending on the poet's choice."

She is now working on a mixed- medium project that tells her grandparents' stories.

"I grew up here but my cultural identity and past are deeply rooted in India. I'd like to add my story to the literary landscape here. It's a way of writing myself in if you like."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 09, 2015, with the headline 'Three writers join NTU programme'. Print Edition | Subscribe