The Singapore Prize awards writers and artists for their work, in English or in Chinese. The prize, which is open to both local and international authors, was launched in 2014 by the National University of Singapore (NUS) History Department.
The prize is open to works that tell the story of Singapore’s history in an engaging way, using language and a narrative approach that appeals to a wide audience. This year’s shortlist includes a range of genres, from fiction to non-fiction.
Some of this year’s contenders are a pair of books on the history of Singapore’s botanic gardens, one about the relationship between humans and animals in colonial Singapore and another about the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee fire. There’s also a book about Singapore’s Kampong Gelam, a place that’s now mostly known as a tourist attraction but once was a thriving community of traders and craftsmen.
There’s a book about the Singapore’s hawker centers, too, which are open-air eateries that sell food and drinks to the public. The author, Loh Kah Seng, has a long history with the local hawker centers.
He’s also a translator, with his most recent translation being Never Grow Up, the autobiography of film star Jackie Chan.
Tiang has written several novels and has translated works by Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon and Chinese author Yan Geling. He won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2018 for his novel State Of Emergency and was nominated for this year’s award.
The prize, which is administered by NUS Press, carries a S$50,000 cash prize. Three books from NUS Press were on the prize’s shortlist this year, including Nature’s Colony: Empire, Nation and Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens by Timothy P Barnard; Squatters into Citizens: the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore by Loh Kah Seng; and Singapore And The Silk Road Of the Sea, 1300-1800 by John N. Miksic, who was awarded the inaugural prize last year for his work.
As an award-winning e-anthology editor, Valles said the Illumination Book Awards are “a great affirmation that motivates me to write better, try to inspire others and give witness to God’s tender mercies.”
For his second book, Tiang has turned to Singapore’s history in the 1950s. In Not Great, But At Least Something: Life In Singapore during the Korean War, Tiang traces the shattered lives of people in Singapore as it emerged from war to peace and then, finally, into a vibrant nation.
This year, he’s nominated his work as a finalist for the Asia-Pacific Book Awards, a prestigious prize that recognises the best books from across the region.
He’s also up for the International Festival of Writing in Singapore’s annual book prize, which recognises English-language books that have an Asian perspective and are published in Southeast Asia. He’s competing against Cyril Wong’s This Side Of Heaven; Daryl Qilin Yam’s Shantih Shantih Shantih; Mallika Naguran’s She Never Looks Quite Back; and Jee Leong Koh’s Snow At 5pm: Translations of An Insignificant Japanese Poet.