Writers Yu, Chia and Goh receive S.E.A. Write Award for Singapore

The S.E.A. Write Award winners - (from left) Ovidia Yu, Chia Joo Ming and Peter Augustine Goh - were announced on Thursday. Recipients are picked by their peers in each Asean country.
The S.E.A. Write Award winners - Ovidia Yu (above), Chia Joo Ming and Peter Augustine Goh - were announced on Thursday. Recipients are picked by their peers in each Asean country.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHIA JOO MING, ST FILE, WESLEY LOH
The S.E.A. Write Award winners - (from left) Ovidia Yu, Chia Joo Ming and Peter Augustine Goh - were announced on Thursday. Recipients are picked by their peers in each Asean country.
The S.E.A. Write Award winners - Ovidia Yu, Chia Joo Ming (above) and Peter Augustine Goh - were announced on Thursday. Recipients are picked by their peers in each Asean country.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHIA JOO MING, ST FILE, WESLEY LOH
The S.E.A. Write Award winners - (from left) Ovidia Yu, Chia Joo Ming and Peter Augustine Goh - were announced on Thursday. Recipients are picked by their peers in each Asean country.
The S.E.A. Write Award winners - Ovidia Yu, Chia Joo Ming and Peter Augustine Goh (above) - were announced on Thursday. Recipients are picked by their peers in each Asean country.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHIA JOO MING, ST FILE, WESLEY LOH

Three writers - Ovidia Yu, Chia Joo Ming and Peter Augustine Goh - have been awarded the S.E.A. Write Award for Singapore.

The regional award, presented annually since 1979 to leading poets and writers in the 10 Asean countries, was not given out for three years because of the death of the late Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Yu, Chia and Goh won for 2016, 2017 and last year respectively. The wins were announced on Thursday by the Singapore Book Council.

They will receive their awards at a ceremony at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok hotel on Nov 25 from Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya of Thailand. Each will receive an honorarium of 50,000 baht (S$2,250) and an all-expenses-paid, four-day stay in Bangkok.

Yu, 58, wrote seminal local plays such as Three Fat Virgins Unassembled (1992), which was restaged in July as part of TheatreWorks' N.O.W. programme.

She has since turned her hand to murder mysteries and earlier this year published the third in her Crown Colony detective series, set in 1930s colonial Singapore.

She said her first reaction was "amazement and disbelief... mostly because I write humorous murder mysteries and, on the literary hierarchy, that ranks far below poetry and literary novels".

She added she is hugely delighted. "It feels like a validation of something I deeply believe - that whatever we set out to write has first to entertain.

"Reading is only a luxury we can't afford if it's not fun. After all, we somehow afford bubble tea and mobile phones.

"That's not to say I don't take writing seriously - I write as a way of working out what I think, how I feel about being alive in this time and place and how I feel about people."

Chia, 60, has won the Singapore Literature Prize twice for his novels Reconstructing Nanyang Images (2005) and m40 (2009) and received a prize commendation for his 2015 novel Exile Or Pursuit, which was added to the O-level Chinese literature syllabus last year.

The Lianhe Zaobao senior executive sub-editor said in Mandarin of the award: "It is a new chapter, but the writing must continue."

Goh, 65, is the author of more than 30 books in Malay and won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2016 for his short story collection Air Mata Di Arafah (Tears In Arafah).

He is now working on his next collection of more than 100 poems.

Goh, who was born in Malaysia and became a Singapore citizen in 1978, was happy to be recognised after 45 years of writing. "This is prestigious because it is not just a local honour, but a South-east Asian one."

He plans to donate the prize money to charity. "The most important thing for a writer is to give back to society."

Recipients of the S.E.A. Write Awards are selected by their peers in each of the Asean countries. The award may be given for a specific work by an author or for lifetime achievement.

Past recipients from Singapore include poet Edwin Thumboo (1979), writer Catherine Lim (1999) and playwright Haresh Sharma (2014).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2019, with the headline 'Writers Yu, Chia and Goh receive S.E.A. Write Award for Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe