We are pleased to announce that Professor Edwin Thumboo’s poetry collection, A Gathering of Themes (Ethos Books, 2019), has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize 2020!
Professor Thumboo is one of Singapore’s foremost pioneer poets. After more than a decade since his last anthology, Still Travelling (Ethos Books, 2008), he brings to us a new work that features 109 poems, covering a wide range of topics including love, religion, history and nationhood.
In time his words fly. ‘A special moment’. We wish Professor Thumboo all the best!
The virtual awards ceremony is on 27 August 2020, 8pm. You can tune in to the ceremony on Facebook!
The Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be awarding the Edwin Thumboo Prize 2020 to four pre-university students for their outstanding literary work.
Named after one of Singapore’s most prominent poets and scholars, the Edwin Thumboo Prize, aims to promote excellence in the study of Literature at the pre-university level by recognising outstanding literary works by A-level and International Baccalaureate (IB) students of English Literature in Singapore. It is administered by the Department with support from the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Prize, established in 2019, is funded by generous donors, including patrons of the arts and former winners of the Angus Ross Prize.
The winner of the Edwin Thumboo Prize 2020 is Ms Loh Su Jean from Raffles Institution, who will receive a monetary award of $200.
Her essay on Shakespeare evinced a thorough and dedicated pursuit of scholarly knowledge and individual insight. The panel praised her exceptional work, which embodied both intellectual capacity and depth. Ms Loh demonstrated similar poise and discernment during her interview when she had to analyse and compare two unseen poems – one of which was by a Singapore poet. She navigated poetic complexity with immense conviction, rigour and detail, and presented an insightful reading of the poems.
When informed of the results, Ms Loh said, “I owe this to each and every one of my literature teachers, who showed me how to look at the world with inspiration and discover its beauty in the written word. To my mother, who read to me before I could: thank you for filling my childhood with books, libraries, and a love for stories. None of this would be possible without you.”
Three Merit Prizes will also be awarded to Ms Chu Shuai Wu Freyja from Dunman High School, Mr Ng Zheng Yang from Anglo Chinese Junior College, and Ms Silvia Suseno from Nanyang Junior College. They will receive monetary awards of $100 each.
The winners of the Edwin Thumboo Prize were selected through a rigorous selection process. In 2019, government pre-university institutions were invited to nominate one candidate each. The competition attracted entries from 13 institutions.
Each institution had to submit recommendations for their nominated candidates. The candidates were also required to submit a piece of academic writing on a literary text or topic.
Candidates were assessed by a selection panel, comprising representatives from NUS and MOE, as well as former prize-winners. The selection panel for this year’s Prize included Dr Susan Ang from the Department and the 1997 Angus Ross Prize Winner, Mr Aaron Maniam. In identifying the winners, the selection panel looked particularly for an excellent grasp of the written word, and a sensitivity to its significance as a creative endeavour.
Associate Professor Michelle Lazar, Head of the NUS Department of English Language and Literature, was impressed with the quality of the entries and expressed the Department’s gratitude to the donors who initiated and donated to the Edwin Thumboo Prize. She said, “We are very encouraged by the number of nominations received this year, the diverse topics of the submissions – ranging from Shakespeare to Bob Dylan – and the sophistication of writing and analysis of many of the entries. We are grateful to our partners in education from MOE and the pre-university institutions for working with us to promote the study of and love for literature.”
About Professor Edwin Thumboo
Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo is one of Singapore’s pioneering poets. An accomplished literary practitioner and critic, he dedicated his life to the composition and study of English Literature. His work is studied in schools, both locally and abroad, and featured in public places in Singapore. At NUS, Professor Thumboo had served as Head of the Department of English Language and Literature, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Director of the NUS Centre for the Arts. He has also received numerous awards, including the Book Award for Poetry in English (1978, 1980 and 1994), Southeast Asia Write Award (1979), The Cultural Medallion (March 1980), ASEAN Cultural and Communication Award for Literature (August 1987), Public Service Star (August 1991), the Meritorious Service Medal (2006), and Distinguished Service Award (2008).
A mid-term overseas excursion involving almost sixty hours of travel can be no mere flight of fancy. From 17 to 19 October 2019, I was very privileged to be at the North American Victorian Studies Association’s (NAVSA) annual conference in Columbus, Ohio. I was there with the support of the English Language and Literature department at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and under the mentorship of Professor Kevin A. Morrison from Henan University, whom I met during a module on Victorian Literature and Culture that he had conducted as a Visiting Professor to NUS. Dr Morrison had nominated me to present a project at NAVSA 2019’s Undergraduate Research Event. Months of research following my acceptance into the programme, which found me stealing time from my vacation and coursework to read anything from Victorian lyric poetry to nineteenth-century animal welfare brochures, eventually yielded the theme of this project: “Rethinking Victorian Anthropocentricism: The Avian Poetics of Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and the Rossettis.”
Part of the research programme for undergraduates at NAVSA 2019 included a workshop. This was an opportunity for us to pitch our projects to one another, to refine our arguments against our peers’ evaluation. We also shared insights and experiences related to the challenges of preparing for the upcoming presentation. We spoke at length, for instance, about the difficulty of handling the specific genre we were assigned to work with: the academic poster. To compress reams of research into a mere five hundred words or so plus a handful of images was infinitely more demanding than a five thousand-word paper might have been. Yet the prevailing realisation was that such limitation could only be the impetus for radical creativity. Brevity boasts its own poetry. What was truly inspiring in the work of my peers was its sheer felicity and acumen: everybody was bold, open and in earnest about what they were sharing. I was deeply impressed, for example, by Hannah Calderazzo’s presentation titled “Unfeminine Legacies from Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White to Victoria Cross’s Six Chapters of a Man’s Life,” which skilfully and imaginatively unpacked the transactions between nineteenth-century sensation fiction and classical tragedy. Hannah was extremely well-read and fluent in her knowledge of the period. Like every other participant at the conference, she was deeply in possession of her own niche, and proudly, unapologetically so.
In many ways it was the people who made the occasion. This was especially true during the undergraduate poster session, held on the third and final day of the conference. Our posters were arranged along corridors adjacent to seminar rooms in the Hilton Columbus Downtown where the conference was being hosted. Interested participants could approach individual presenters to talk about their projects. Here, I was quite overwhelmed by the encouraging feedback I received. Dr Maha Jafri from Sewanee, for example, summoned such tremendous energy to engage with my readings of Hardy, Meredith and the Rossettis; she also shared valuable information about where I might look up archives related to the work of Meredith (a writer whose work, we both agreed, suffers its own somewhat maligned, critically underappreciated dogmatic brilliance). I also got to test my interpretations of poems by Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti against the expertise of Professor Elizabeth K. Helsinger, whose work I had read when conducting my own research. Part of the difficulty of establishing an ecological reading of the Rossettis concerns how one might evaluate the theological preoccupations of their work. In simple terms, it’s difficult to say precisely that when, for instance, Christina Rossetti in “A Birthday” writes “My heart is like a singing bird / Whose nest is in a water’d shoot,” she is being as aware of the bird itself as she is with its symbolic properties. It was therefore immensely motivating to hear Professor Helsinger say, in agreement with my own intuitions, that, “Yes, I do think she sees the bird.” The poster session resonated, in sum, both effectively and affectively; it built my confidence and helped me sharpen my own critical perceptions.
I’ll finish this post with a thought that returns me home. Many of my fondest memories of NAVSA 2019, strangely enough, don’t come from Columbus at all. These include: the enthusiastic and unconditional support of my family; endless matrices of email correspondence with Dr Morrison on the details of the project, which he tirelessly and meticulously guided me through; Professor Lazar and Professor Sankaran’s warm encouragement before my trip; Dr Susan Ang’s illuminating discussions on Hopkins, Keats and Shelley; Ms Angeline Ang’s kindness and patience in guiding me through the administrative work of requesting conference funds; expedient emails from CLB containing articles requested via DDS that were essential in helping me define and refine my project; Dr Jennifer McDonell’s expert feedback on my ideas and poster design; Dr Michael Hollington’s hugely supportive response to my queries about his own work on Dickens and to my project; talks with Stasha Wong on environmentalism, animals and various things ecological; philosophical gymnastics with Tan Wei Lin on dialogism and Derrida; discussions with Joycelyn Lee Yuet Zhen on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Sudden Light,” phonemes and the IPA chart. It’s this community of people back to whom I must trace the roots of the sweetness of my experience of NAVSA 2019, and so I do, with great wonder and gratitude.
Alumnus Khor Kuan Liang majored in English Literature and graduated in 2014. He has since published his first novel titled Kallang Basin Adagio. In the interview below, we catch up with him and invite him to share his views on his novel and on Singapore literature.
Can you tell us what your novel is about and what your motivation is in writing this novel? Can you also comment on your novel’s interesting title—Kallang Basin Adagio?
The novel has universal themes and is set in a future world, which has been ravaged by global environmental catastrophe. In this post-apocalyptic setting, a group of survivors rescue a boy and his musically-inclined humanoid, Doll, on their way to the haven at Kallang Basin. But Doll is no mere android. She has been designed to play some of the most beautiful music the world has ever heard. Music has been a form of catharsis for me and thus prompted me to write this story…
Speaking of music, an Adagio refers to a slow tempo — used chiefly as a direction in music. Adagio for Strings (by Samuel Barber) is a musical piece that has significance throughout my novel. What would become Doll’s most special piece of music was actually composed in 1936 when Samuel Barber encountered a passage from Virgil’s Georgics:
…curve of wave begins to whiten
And rise above the surface, then rolling on
Gathers and gathers until it reaches land
Huge as a mountain and crashes among the rocks
With a prodigious roar, and what was deep
Comes churning up from the bottom in mighty swirls
Born in the chaos of a continent on the brink of apocalypse, such Adagio music certainly resonates with some of the other themes in this novel. The actual Adagio music is over in eight minutes, harmonically unresolved, and if any musical piece can come close to conveying the effect of a sigh, or courage in the face of tragedy, or hope, or abiding love, this is it.
Did studying literature as an undergraduate contribute to the writing of Kallang Basin Adagio?
Certainly; I came across twentieth-century literature texts that revolve around art and artistic endeavours. I decided to examine these themes in the context of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting where humanity is already on the brink of extinction. What role does art or artistic endeavours – represented by musically-inclined artificial intelligence in the story – serve when we struggle to survive? This is a pertinent question raised that readers can continue to ponder long after they have read the book.
Can you share some of your views on the current state of Singapore literature?
I think it needs more time to develop and there is still some way to go. However, there also now seems to be more support with events like the annual Singapore Writers’ Festival and initiatives by local publishers like Epigram Books. I have heard of Epigram Books from quite a number of years back but only after they published my novel did I truly see how special and supportive this publisher is. Hopefully more people will see that too.
Do you have any future writing plans? How do you manage writing in a busy country like Singapore?
Like music, writing has been a therapeutic experience for me; shining rays of light amidst the darkness of personal issues I’ve gone through and am still going through. Thus, I will certainly be writing in the future but on other topics of interest, including stories for children. I have stopped teaching for the moment and seek to focus more on writing.
Kallang Basin Adagio can be purchased from Epigram Books (below).
We are very pleased to announce the results of the Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing Competition 2019 – Poetry. Congratulations to the prize winners!
1st Prize ($10,000):
Jedidiah HUANG for “When They Tell You About Heartbreak”
2nd Prize ($6,000):
Valen LIM Ray Zheng for “Narrative That Ends In Dust”
3rd Prize ($4,000):
LIM Jia Ying for “Milk”
The prize winners will be notified by email and will be required to attend the Award presentation. Details of the event will be provided closer to the date.
The biennial Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing Prize was established by the late Dr Sylvia Goh with an endowed gift to the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore in memory and recognition of her late husband, Goh Sin Tub, who was one of Singapore’s best-known local writers.
Goh Sin Tub and Dr Sylvia Goh are both alumni of the University of Malaya (UM), one of NUS’ predecessor institutions. The Prize commemorates Goh Sin Tub’s life, achievements and support for education.
The genre for this Competition is Poetry. Subsequent competitions will feature other literary genres. The competition is open to all members of the NUS community at the time of submission of entry.
The closing date for the competition was 31 August 2019. Fifty-seven qualifying entries were received.
The judges for the competition are Professor Rajeev Patke (Yale-NUS), Assoc Prof Ismail Talib (Department of English Language and Literature, NUS) and Mr P K Mathimugan (Class of 2019, English Literature at the Department of English Language and Literature, NUS).
Like an ivory frontispiece to a magniloquent tome, wherein lay the annals of a nation splayed across its vellum pages, stood the Raffles Hotel, monumentalising old-world resplendence and modern mystique in its grand visage. Stark against the Singapore sun and sky stood its frosty white marble pillars and alabaster walls, chilled by both its grandeur and the modern air-conditioning.
Sweating from the heat and the imposing event ahead, we students approached, with caution, unsure of where amidst these colonnades, balustrades and quadrangles we would find our session with internationally acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer, author of The Man Within My Head (2012), Sun After Dark (2004) and The Lady and the Monk (1991). This exclusive engagement on 14 August 2019 for National University of Singapore (NUS) literature students arose on occasion of Mr Iyer becoming the first Writer-in-Residence in the new Raffles Writer’s Residency fellowship, set up by the Raffles Hotel. For the joint organisation and coordination of this opportunity, Associate Professor Anne Thell and the Raffles Hotel receive our sincerest thanks!
We eventually found the venue for the session: Jubilee Lounge. This in turn found us jubilant at our arrival in time – and, mutually, the hotel staff equally jubilant at their successful wrangling of a dishevelled group of students through the labyrinthine hotel and into this immaculate room. Thence began the magic of the moment, manifest by the man of the moment: Mr Iyer opened—with characteristic courtesy, asking leave of the audience to read a passage from his notable work, The Global Soul (2000)—with a reading of a quasi-autobiographical scene of his burning house set ablaze by California forest fires and his harrowing escape.
With a meditative coda, Mr Iyer’s tone dispossessed itself from that different time and turned with warmth to us, instead. With his eyes gleaming with learning and reflection, and his smile—genial, assured and knowing—he invited us into conversation on the notion of home, initiating this topic with intellectual and spiritual verve as he expounded on Buddha’s Fire Sermon, in which the image of a burning house features most prominently as a symbol for the stripping away of the pleasure and perspective of visual indulgence for one to bear witness to the truth. Indeed, for Mr Iyer, a cosmopolitan supra-cityscape like Singapore—with its global connections, globalist orientations and sparse land space—was conducive for the making a global, mobile people who would be especially prepared to take their sense of home with them wherever they went, rather than tether ‘home’ to an expression of a thing or a place.
What constitutes home—for us, for anyone? Our responses were too varied to capture in this brief essay, but I will offer a skeletal report: One English Literature major alumnus, Ong Lin Kang, proffered the observation that the mobility of a people whose homes could be ensouled and so carried with them despite their travels had to be supported by a certain status and privilege. Given this, the increasingly vociferous reactions and sentiments of xenophobia, especially with respect to immigration, could be seen as a conflict between those who sense of home is physical and those for whom it is not physical. Mr. Iyer averred and supplemented this idea—and this in turn prompted Augustine Chay, a current postgraduate student, to ask about Mr Iyer’s views on the ethics of representation in the craft of a literary practitioner of travel writing, as to whether one should take pains to reorient unconscious biases to one’s conscious values. Showing utmost respect to the audience, Mr Iyer asked leave to answer the question posed, in another way. He related his own complex cultural programming: American by residence; British by birth; Indian by ethnicity, citizenry and ancestry; and Japanese by residence and through marriage. Only with an exceptional exercise of self-awareness and self-abnegation could he identify how one or another cultural lens contributed to his perspective – the perspective through which he views the subjects of which he writes, and with which he narrates his views to readers through his work. More often than not, however, it would be a nigh-impossible task. The question then was for readers to identify, and then de-orient themselves from, the writer’s unconscious biases, in relation to the reader’s conscious values. This was why he stood by the words he said in an interview in 2006 that “imaginative imperialism when writing about the West’s meeting with the East […] never concerned [him] too much” – not because it did not concern him at all, but because there was little, if anything at all, that he could do to operationalise that concern. How he could do anything about it, however, would occur in his teaching: guiding others towards developing a critical literary intelligence and independence to do the work of reading with relish, responsibility and resistance.
On the matter of how a writer operationalised his craft, Owen David Harry, another postgraduate student in English Literature, was interested in what Mr Iyer’s actual writing practices were. Mr Iyer was glad to divulge his experience – and revealed that of the questions students had prepared for this session, he was looking forward the most to attempting an answer to this one. He informed us that he sets aside a few hours, at least, each morning for writing, by hand, and insists that he continues this practice even if his writing that day does not come to him easily or well, or if he is travelling and in a new time zone. He perseveres in this way because he has realised that when he does so, even if he does not get much writing done on a current project, he produces something, and is better able the next day to discriminate between what was good in style or subject and what was not, and what should be in this work and what might belong in a subsequent work, like the next book or an essay.
Related to this concern of what goes into constructing place and in writing a book about places, a current English Literature undergraduate, Ariane Noelle Vanco, asked if elision in travel writing is a concern, as surely not everything experienced and observed may be accounted for in writing—and, furthermore, not much that is pejorative or unpleasant finds its way into travel writing. Mr Iyer prefaced his answer as both a response to Ariane and a continuation of his response to Owen about his writing practices: in writing Video Night in Kathmandu (1988), he shuttled from one city to the next, from Rangoon to New York to Manila to Hong Kong to Bombay to Beijing to Bali; and from one country to the next, from Thailand to the Philippines to Nepal to India to Burma to China to America. He was young, and traveling eagerly through fast-paced cities, and furiously scribbled down everything, attempting to record, as much as he could, every perceptual observation—sight, sound, smell, touch and taste—as it happened. He found, though, that while this method captured fresh perceptions, it also encouraged only nascent thoughts about them. Later, he changed his methods and began to exercise more discipline and focus. Now, he jots down phrases and fragments, and what creative and descriptive expressions dawned on him about his observations – how sights could be smelt; and how sounds could be touched and felt, for instance. He then writes from memory and carefully selects just a few details to include—the sound of a saxophone on a busy street, for instance. He acknowledges that reconstructing from memory is difficult, especially if you want to make writing come alive. Oftentimes too perceptions once missed cannot be recovered. Thus he returns to his notes to start writing about his impressions, as these allow him to reconstruct, or approximate, that feeling of first perception that is so central to capturing place. If he can still feel those first sensations via his writing, it is more likely a reader can, too—and that is his wish for any reader of any of his works: to feel place. He concluded jocularly that despite this conscious effort to connect with readers, each time he writes a book he strives to write a very different book than the one before, which may not be viewed as a wise marketing strategy since a reader who loves one book might hate the next! Optimistically, though, he hopes that a reader who hated a first book might find himself or herself loving another.
Picking up from Mr Iyer’s initiation of the topic of Video Night in Kathmandu (1988), I asked if he still held the suspicion that every Asian culture and city he encountered was “too deep, too canny or too self-possessed to be turned by passing trade winds from the west”, as he wrote in that book; and if, in the thirty years since its publication, that suspicion had been ossified or overturned. Mr Iyer smiled and said, “Of course.”
“These are grand, old civilisations that you have in Asia,” he continued. “They will not so spurn themselves to become someone else. Look at China and its resurgent ascendance. Look at India and its innovations for an electronic democracy. Look at Japan, and its cultural and aesthetic power. They have reassurance in and respect for who they regard themselves to be – and who they were and who they want to be.” He also mentioned that the underlying identities of cities and countries are not so easily changed; for instance, a city which might appear to have transformed entirely—a new skyline, new streets, new trends—still retains its unique character. Cities you know well are like old friends: recognizable even after years of distance. He concluded that this was much the case with Singapore, too: Singapore, as he writes in his recently published book This Could Be Home: Raffles Hotel and the City of Tomorrow (2019), “belonged to many cultures all at once, but wasn’t entirely hostage to any one of them.”
It’s a beautiful, crisp February morning in Shigang, Taiwan, and a group of eight NUS students are hard at work on several pear farms and an orchid nursery dotted around the area. We’re working with members of the Shigang Mama Theatre, a company that began almost 20 years ago, following the horrific earthquake of 1999 that devastated various parts of Taiwan, particularly Shigang, a tiny district right along the fault line that runs through the heart of the island. Founded by a group of about a dozen Hakka women who are farmers, mothers and wives (and now grandmothers), their initial performances potently portrayed their traumatic experiences of the earthquake, then eventually incorporated other aspects of their lives as marginal, labouring women: their fears, their hopes, their dreams.
This field trip to Shigang is part of a long-term transnational project combining theatrical collaborations and academic research called A Home on the Island. This year’s workshop, the fourth in the series, was subtitled “Body, Labour and Gender.” Assistant Professor Liang Peilin, who teaches the module TS4222 Performance as Research in Applied Theatre, has worked with the Shigang Mama Theatre since the mid-2000s and has been bringing her students to the area to develop what she’s conceived of as a “probody aesthetics,” which is ”an endeavour that shifts the conceptualisation of theatre and performance from body-based or body-centered practices towards an idea of body-centric practices. This move is based on the idea of providing care for performers through their artistic practices and the artwork they make.” (Liang, 2018: 3, my emphasis)
Over the course of the two decades, the members of the Shigang Mama Theatre have begun to encounter physical injuries aggravated by age and the coercive demands of the agricultural labour they do on a daily basis. During our visit to Shigang from Feb 23 to 27 (2019), Dr Liang hoped that we might be able to start developing an approach to creating performances with the Mamas that might be restorative and therapeutic for their bodies, instead of physically exploitative. We also did work on their farms so that we could empathise with the strain on their bodies and the repetitive motions they are subject to. Over the course of the five days, and together with a Taiwanese chiropractor, Dr Hou Boyuan, we choreographed and devised short performance pieces incorporating various chiropractic movements that countered neck, shoulder, back, and knee injuries, aches and pains. These socially-engaged pieces also dealt with themes such as domestic responsibilities and challenges, agricultural labour, and marriage and parenthood.
My group was “adopted” by Yang Zhenzhen Mama, the leader of the Shigang Mama Theatre who is in her late 50s and runs a sprawling orchid nursery with her husband and son. We quickly found out how a probody aesthetics in performance has been helpful for her own body. During the harvest season, she often picks thousands of orchids a day – by hand, and without using any farming implements or tools that might damage the flowers. This caused her to develop excruciating pain on the right side of her neck, fingers and wrist, so much so that she could not even move her head. When Zhenzhen Mama picked up taiko drumming as part of the theatre company’s performer training she grew acutely aware of her non-dominant left hand. So she implemented a policy of ambidexterity on her farm, insisting that everyone on the farm had to be able to use both their dominant and non-dominant halves of their bodies to carry flower plots or pick flowers, and she believes it’s an ambidexterity that most flower farmers lack – even the most experienced farmers in the industry – and that has helped prevent more severe injuries.
A Home on the Island (IV): Body, Labour and Gender allowed us to learn how to devise performances that make use of a probody aesthetic that might be crucial to sustaining the bodies of the members of the Shigang Mama Theatre not just in their performance practices, but also in their everyday labour on their farms.
The Department of English Language and Literature (DELL) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is pleased to announce a new prize for Pre-university students of English Literature.
The Edwin Thumboo Prize, named after one of Singapore’s most prominent poets and scholars, recognises works by outstanding A-level and International Baccalaureate (IB) students of English Literature in Singapore. It is administered by DELL with support from the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Prize is funded by generous donors, including patrons of the arts and former winners of the Angus Ross Prize.
About Professor Edwin Thumboo
Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo is one of Singapore’s earliest poets. An accomplished literary practitioner and critic, he dedicated his life to the composition and study of English Literature. His work is studied in schools, both locally and abroad, and featured in public places in Singapore. At NUS, Professor Thumboo has served as Head of the Department of English Language and Literature, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Director of the NUS Centre for the Arts. He has also received numerous awards, including the Book Award for Poetry in English (1978, 1980 and 1994), Southeast Asia Write Award (1979), The Cultural Medallion (March 1980), ASEAN Cultural and Communication Award for Literature (August 1987), Public Service Star (August 1991), the Meritorious Service Medal (2006), and Distinguished Service Award (2008).
About the Prize
The selection process for the Prize is rigorous and multi-faceted. Government pre-university institutions, including those offering the IB Diploma Programme, were invited to nominate one candidate each. The competition attracted entries from 10 Pre-university institutions.
Each school submitted a write-up on their recommended candidate, who also submitted a piece of academic writing (not more than 10 pages in length) on a literary text or topic.
Candidates will be assessed by a selection panel, comprising representatives from NUS and MOE, as well as former prize-winners. Each year’s winner will receive a monetary award of $200. Merit awards of $100 will also recognise deserving nominations.
The selection panel for this year’s Prize included Dr. Jane Nardin from Yale-NUS, and the 1997 Angus Ross Prize Winner, Mr. Aaron Maniam.
In identifying the winner, the selection panel looked particularly for an excellent grasp of the written word, and a sensitivity to its significance as a creative endeavour.
The winner of the Edwin Thumboo Prize 2019 is Mr. Gan Chong Jing from Raffles Institution. Mr. Gan impressed the panel with his outstanding essay on the theme of forgiveness in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Chong Jing’s work was subtle, elegant and demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the play. It navigated complex and rich ideas while displaying coherence, fluency and economy of expression. In addition, all interviewees were given the challenging task of critically analysing two unseen poems – one by a Singapore writer – that they were shown only 20 minutes before their interview. Chong Jing’s nuanced response was exemplary in its rigour, comprehensiveness and detail.
When informed of the results of the Prize, Chong Jing was quick to attribute his success to his family and teachers.
“I wouldn’t have gotten here without every single one of my literature teachers, who not only taught me everything I know but also showed me how to love the written word for all its depth and beauty. Neither would I be here without my parents, who read to me when I was too young to read, stocked a house full of books and filled my childhood with stories. I owe this to you all; thank you.”
Three Merit Prizes will also be awarded to Ms. Jane Lee Jia Hui from Dunman High School, Ms. Lim Yi Jun from River Valley High School, and Ms. Yew Jien Huey from Victoria Junior College.
Merit Prize Winners (from top): Jane Lee Jia Hui, Lim Yi Jun and Yew Jien Huey.
Associate Professor Michelle Lazar, expressed the Department’s gratitude to the donors who initiated and donated to the ET Prize which aims to promote excellence in the study of Literature at the pre-university level. She added, “We are very encouraged by the quality of the entries and the high level of critical thinking displayed in the essays.”
The prize-giving ceremony will be held on Friday, 26 April 2019 at NUS.