Major writing competitions in Singapore should allow migrant workers to take part: Panel

(From left) The Future of Migrant Writing in Singapore
panel discussion with Head of Math Paper Press and Co-founder of Books Actually Kenny Leck, Migrant Worker Poetry Competition organiser Shivaji Das, migrant poets Bikas Nath and Yulia Endang, with moderator Theophilus Kwek at the Migrant Literature Festival at the Central Public Library on Dec 22, 2019.

SINGAPORE - Major writing competitions, such as the Singapore Literature Prize and the Golden Point Award, can support the migrant writing scene in Singapore by accepting the works of migrant workers, a panel said on Sunday (Dec 22).

Currently, these key prizes are only open to submissions from Singapore citizens and permanent residents.

"The criteria can be tweaked such that it is for all persons who have been residing in Singapore for the last 24 months, for instance, as good writing has no nationality," said Mr Kenny Leck, a publisher and one of the panellists at the Migrant Literature Festival held at the National Library.

The panel discussion explored the topic of the future of migrant writing in Singapore and its attendant challenges.

Ms Yulia Endang, a poet from Indonesia who has been working in Singapore as a domestic worker, said she hopes publishers or other partners can come in to offer language or other writing courses for migrant workers as some struggle with their command of the English Language.

Mr Shivaji Das, who organises the Migrant Worker Poetry Competition here, however, had a different perspective.

He said it is "unfortunate" that many of the poetry submissions his team has been receiving are in English even though he has come to observe much beauty when migrant writers write in their own language.

"Maybe they presume that they may have a higher chance of winning the competition if it's written in English. What we need is more funding and support to get translators to translate their works," he added.

In response to Ms Yulia's suggestion, Mr Leck urged local writers to volunteer a few hours a month to hold writing workshops for migrant writers.

"It's not a sacrifice and local writers can do more to support the scene. In investing not only the money but also the time, we would learn so much more," he added.

Four new books from migrant workers here were launched at the festival on Sunday.

These books, through the medium of poetry, stories and even recipes, capture various facets of migrant life. For example, Filipino domestic worker and author Shy Lhen Esposo bares her heart and emotions in her book Dreams Are My Reality.

A group of Filipino domestic workers, who have worked for over 30 families between them in the past two decades, have also come together to write a recipe book on the recipes they have picked up in their kitchens in Singapore.

The four new books are available for purchase at the City Book Room along North Bridge Road.

All the five stories performed on stage by migrant and local writers at the festival will also be published in an anthology in English in future.

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