Open literary contests to migrant workers: Panel

Panellists at the Migrant Literature Festival at the National Library yesterday. (From left) Winner of the 2016 Migrant Worker Poetry Competition Bikas Nath from Bangladesh, moderator Theophilus Kwek, Indonesian poet Yulia Endang, publisher Kenny Lec
Panellists at the Migrant Literature Festival at the National Library yesterday. (From left) Winner of the 2016 Migrant Worker Poetry Competition Bikas Nath from Bangladesh, moderator Theophilus Kwek, Indonesian poet Yulia Endang, publisher Kenny Leck and Mr Shivaji Das, who organises the poetry competition.PHOTO: THEOPHILUS KWEK/FACEBOOK

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 yesterday.

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

Mr Kenny Leck, 40, a publisher and one of the panellists at the Migrant Literature Festival held at the National Library yesterday, said: "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."

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

Ms Yulia Endang, 33, 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 writing courses for migrant workers as some struggle with their command of the English language.

Mr Shivaji Das, 43, 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 languages.

"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 said.

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 said.

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

These books, through poetry, stories and even recipes, capture various facets of migrant life.

For example, Filipino author and domestic worker 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 more than 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 City Book Room in 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 the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2019, with the headline 'Open literary contests to migrant workers: Panel'. Print Edition | Subscribe