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Local literature vital to 'soul' of Singapore

Local publisher Epigram Books will hide 50 books in five heartland areas until Monday as part of The SingLit Heartland Book Drop campaign. It is part of the #BuySingLit movement, which supports local writers.
Local publisher Epigram Books will hide 50 books in five heartland areas until Monday as part of The SingLit Heartland Book Drop campaign. It is part of the #BuySingLit movement, which supports local writers.

The initiatives being taken by the #BuySingLit movement, including many literary events and programmes, along with support from the National Arts Council and National Book Development Council, are a giant step in encouraging Singaporeans to buy and read home-grown literature (Surprise Letters For Singaporeans, Life, Feb 14).

The onslaught of electronic images, tech-savvy gadgets and massive amounts of social media information in the daily lives of our school children has undermined the importance of the reading habit, particularly in local literature.

Local literature is so vital to preserving our rich heritage that we sometimes underestimate its importance in our continually evolving history.

With local texts being increasingly popularised in many schools, the benefits of studying such literature are obvious, as students are able to identify with local themes, settings, cultures, identities and lifestyles, as well as national issues and perspectives.

In fact, locally authored books provide valuable insight into the heart of the nation by catching its pulse and soul.

They are truly a mirror and reflection of Singaporean society with its intricately woven tapestry of multiple creeds, cultures, languages, lifestyles, mannerisms and identities.

They portray Singaporean characters in Singaporean locations dealing with Singaporean issues.

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We are also able to connect with people brought up in colonial Singapore and in poverty-riddled villlages blossoming with the success and prosperity of this nation.

Our literary fiction, poetry and plays also offer the reader multiple perspectives and individual narratives that question, challenge and broaden views of ourselves beyond the national Singapore Story.

With increasing emphasis on local literature, it is hoped that more study resources and research material would be made available so students would increasingly feel confident to opt for local texts.

For example, user-friendly digital platforms and publications that offer texts, pictures and videos in the digital format should be promoted widely to bolster the reading habit.

We should also cherish our writers, poets and artists. Their work is just as vital in the building of a nation as the work of those in other trades.

Unless initiatives are continually taken to foster the learning of local literature in our academic institutions, we cannot look forward to becoming a society with a "soul".

My hope is that local literature will gain more traction as we evolve into a more gracious society.

Subtract it and the result will be ignorance, prejudice and stereotyping other people and cultures.

Dr V. Subramaniam

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'Local literature vital to 'soul' of Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe