Singapore prize (SGP) is a biennial literary award for the best writers in the country’s four languages. It has been awarded since 1992.
The SGP is administered by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and carries a cash prize of S$50,000.
It is the first prize to be devoted solely to Singapore’s history, and the goal of the prize is to encourage “engagement with Singapore’s history broadly understood”, make the nuances of history more accessible and generate a greater understanding among Singaporeans.
Prof Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow at the NUS Asia Research Institute and chair of the jury for this year’s Singapore prize, told reporters: ‘In this time of political crisis, we want to rekindle Singapore’s sense of belonging by re-engaging with history. We believe the way we talk about and understand history is important to our nation’s identity and well-being, and that shared imagination can play a critical role in sustaining societies.
He cited the book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800 by archaeologist John Miksic as one that made an important contribution to the study of Singapore’s history. It has laid the foundation for a ‘fundamental reinterpretation’ of Singapore and its place in Southeast Asian context, he said.
In 1984, Professor Miksic conducted a test excavation at Fort Canning in Singapore, and his findings led to other archaeological digs that unearthed glass shards, bronze bowls, coins, pottery and other relics. This work helped to uncover a rich history of Southeast Asian trading that dates back before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.
Mr Miksic is a former NUS department head who was also an archaeologist in China before moving to Singapore in 2004. He is now an emeritus professor in the NUS’s department of Southeast Asian studies.
‘Professor Miksic is an extraordinary figure, who has been able to decipher Singapore’s ancient past with great accuracy, and bring it to light for the public,’ Mr Kamarulzaman Abdullah said. ‘He is a brilliant scholar and a great teacher, who has devoted his life to teaching his students about Singapore’s history.
He has helped to rekindle Singapore’s sense, and our collective identity, by re-engaging with history. He is an inspiration to many, and a role model for us all.
A novel by a Tamil woman has been shortlisted for this year’s singapore prize, which is awarded every three years to the best writer in the island state’s four languages. The novel Sembawang is set in 1960s Singapore and looks at history and historical events through the eyes of an ordinary Singaporean.
The book, translated by National Institute of Education senior lecturer Anitha Devi Pillai, has been shortlisted for the fiction section of this year’s competition. The jury praised the novel’s “depiction of Singapore and its people, revealing how Singapore’s diverse ethnicities have evolved and changed over time.”
It is a very touching story that highlights the challenges faced by a family in their daily lives. It is a wonderful read, and has been recommended by many readers.