The Singapore Prize for Literature and History

singapore prize

The Singapore Prize awards authors and works that have contributed to Singapore’s story in a meaningful way. The prizes are administered by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of History and are given out every three years with a cash award of S$50,000 for the winner.

This year’s prize has a theme of resonance, focusing on how literature can trigger emotions and memories in readers. Organizers say it’s an idea that resonates with the recent experience of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic in the country, which continues to ravage communities.

Besides the prize, NUS also offers scholarships and fellowships to help aspiring writers to produce work. These include the prestigious Lauriston Sharp Prize, established in memory of SEAP founder Lauriston Sharp (1907-1993), and the Liu Family Fellowships, which award up to SGD30,000 for post-doctoral research.

There are also a variety of other prizes, ranging from short-term and long-term residency grants to fellowships at international literary conferences. Some of these scholarships are sponsored by organizations, while others are funded by the Singapore government.

The NUS Singapore History Prize, which was introduced in 2014 to support the programmes to celebrate SG50, is open to both fiction and non-fiction works on local history. This is the first time a prize dedicated to the nation’s history has been offered in this way and was created to stimulate engagement with Singapore’s past broadly understood, NUS stated in a press release.

“Nations are ‘imagined communities’, and their shared imagination is essential for them to function effectively,” the press release notes. This prize aims to promote and stimulate a deeper understanding of Singapore’s historical context among citizens, and to increase a sense of belonging.

It is one of the few awards that recognise both academic and fictional works on Singapore’s history, according to NUS. This is an attempt to counterbalance the traditional approach to history in which big names are revered and lauded, with the stories of ordinary Singaporeans playing a more prominent role in a more accessible format.

Kamaladevi Aravindan’s novel, Sembawang (2020, available here), which follows life in the estate of the same name across five decades, is a contender for the prize. She is one of six writers shortlisted for the NUS History Prize, which will be awarded to a book that has made a lasting impact on Singaporeans’ understanding of the city-state’s history.

Other writers on the shortlist include Kwa Chong Guan, Tan Tai Yong and Peter Borschberg, who have all written historical tomes. The list includes novels and non-fiction that have a personal touch, NUS stated in a press release.

This year’s award also recognizes the contributions of writers who have published in both English and Chinese. The winners of the SG Prize’s Chinese and English poetry prizes will receive SGD15,000 each, while the SG Prize for Asian Creative Nonfiction will be awarded SGD10,000.

The prize, which has a total of seven categories, will be awarded at the NUS Library’s annual book fair in October. The jury is composed of members from academia, the arts and the civil service.