The inaugural singapore prize celebrates works in Singapore’s English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil languages. It honours writers who have made an impact on the nation’s literary landscape and aims to encourage a vibrant cultural scene. The prize was launched in 2014, as part of SG50 celebrations. Its first winner, a book on the history of Singapore called Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800 by archaeologist John Miksic, has been described as “an important reinterpretation” of the country’s history.
The judges praised the author for “a synthesis of the evidence and primary sources”. They also acknowledged that the book has been well researched and expertly written, and is an important addition to the literature on Singapore’s past. The prize is a “symbol of the value that we place on a rich shared imagination, especially one informed by the past”, and is a tribute to Singapore’s legacy as an international maritime trade centre.
One of the other finalists in this year’s prize was Sembawang, a novel by Kamaladevi Aravindan that looks at a group of ordinary Singaporeans during the political upheavals of the 1960s. The book challenges the popular view of history as a tale dominated by big movers and shakers.
Other winners included an architect who has embarked on socially meaningful projects in less developed economies, a filmmaker who makes dramas that show the humanity of her characters, and a composer who has helped a choir of homeless people sing and perform. The judging panel, chaired by Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang, included philanthropists, academics and social entrepreneurs. The winning team, Team Empowered Families Initiative (EFI), received a grant of $500,000 to further develop their innovative ideas for alleviating poverty in Singapore.
The winners were announced at a ceremony in Singapore’s National Museum of Singapore. The ceremony was attended by the award’s judges, a nominating committee and members of the public. In a speech, judge and former chairman of the prize jury Kishore Mahbubani said that the prize has reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to a “deeper and more inclusive understanding of its heritage” through the works submitted for consideration. He hoped the prize would continue to “serve as a catalyst for further debate, engagement and learning about our common past”. The winner was chosen by a panel of judges, including NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow and former president of Singapore Kishore Mahbubani, and other luminaries in the arts and academia. The judges praised the author for “a remarkable empathy” and for showing that a story does not have to be “heavy and didactic”. They also lauded the director for making a film with great warmth and sensitivity, and for guiding an ensemble cast of non-professional actors. The jury commended the “unflinching courage” of the film’s protagonists in depicting their difficult and vulnerable experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as its “empathetic insight into the human condition”. The film will be shown in cinemas across the country from next month.