DayMay 26, 2024

The Singapore Prize Shortlist for 2018

The Singapore Prize was launched in 2023, and is an initiative to honour innovators whose work has a significant impact on transforming our world. In its first year, the award saw Accion Andina, GRST, WildAid Marine Program, and S4S Technologies win the prize. This year, the prize will celebrate innovators who are taking action to fight climate change and create a more sustainable future for everyone.

Kishore Mahbubani, the distinguished professor at the NUS Asia Research Institute, conceived the idea for the prize in an opinion column that appeared in April 2014, calling on Singapore’s philanthropists to donate money to fund a book prize on Singapore history. One donor responded a few months later, offering S$500,000 to be put in an endowment to support the prize in perpetuity.

He also served on the panel of judges that chose the inaugural winner of this year’s prize, archaeologist John Miksic’s book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea: 1300-1800. Prof Miksic’s work is a fundamental reinterpretation of Singapore’s early history, based on literary records that suggest the existence of the island as far back as the 13th century.

The prize also recognises writers who can use their talents to promote understanding of Singapore and its place in the global stage. This year’s shortlist of 49 titles was drawn from a pool of 192 submissions, 32 fewer than last year’s. The prize organizers say the smaller number of submissions reflects the impact of the pandemic on publishing in Singapore.

Among this year’s shortlisted authors is novelist Clara Chow, who was nominated in three categories and in two languages. She is the first writer in the programme’s history to be shortlisted in English fiction, English creative nonfiction and Chinese poetry. She is also the first to be nominated for the Readers’ Favorite award, where the public votes online for a favourite shortlisted book in each of the four languages.

Another shortlisted author, National Institute of Education senior lecturer Anitha Devi Pillai, has written a story that explores what it means to be an average Singaporean in the post-leftist political movements and detentions of the 1980s. “My intention in writing this book was to try to capture what life was like for the average Singaporean at that time, and to remind people today of how incredibly lucky we are,” she says.

Among the other books in the final shortlist are a memoir on the AIDS crisis by journalist Jyotirmohan Gupta, and a graphic novel on the experiences of Malaysian migrant workers in Singapore by Sonny Liew, who has won several Eisner awards, the Oscars of the comics industry. The prize committee said that they were impressed by the diversity of voices in the book shortlist, and how each of them tackled the challenges of Singapore’s past. The winner will be announced in October. The prize is funded by the National Research Foundation and supported by a range of partners including the Temasek Trust and Temasek Holdings.