Road to Gautam’s PhD Journey

Meet Gautam, an awardee of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Dean’s PhD Fellowship. The FASS Dean PhD fellowship is one of the highest honors awarded to the top few incoming PhD FASS Students, with a cap of maximum three recipients annually. Recipients of the FASS Dean’s PhD Fellowship will attain an extra year worth of funding in addition to the NUS Research Scholarship. In this feature, Gautam will be sharing more about himself and his research project.

As a teenager I searched novels for sentences that felt true, and later grew fond of stringing together moments in my writing. Before starting my PhD at NUS, I was working on a creative writing MA at NTU. The MA thesis traced my prodigal-son journey to the US, hiding hurt of migrating from small-city India to Singapore as a tween. Where that story was a chance to travel past dysfunctional bits of the global as I came to terms with Singapore, the PhD allows me to ask more methodically what may replace that which I have critiqued.

My research then is focused on ways of reframing Indian Ocean histories of migration and environmental transformation to allow for alternate terms of belonging in global cities like Singapore, Bangalore, and Dubai. Having grown up a Malayali migrant into the Tamil-majority Indian-diaspora experience in Singapore, I focus specifically on these two South Asian language-diasporas and their attempts to make Malaya and the Persian Gulf home over the last century. I look for historical commonalities between post-nineties migrants like myself, and the pre-Cold-War generations I moved into, hoping to find terms which may persuade the latter to more systematically extend generosities to future migrants.

With the Tamil and Malayali diasporas, I am particularly fascinated by how their movement and terms of stay in the last century have been shaped by the oil-driven industrialization of ex-colonies. And how these patterns of industrialization and emissions will likely shape future movement (forced and voluntary) out of monsoon-fed coastal regions of South India, vulnerable to climate disasters, toward global nodes. In the narration of these movements, I see English as a key language of translation between two diasporas and three regions, navigating patterns of industrialization shaped by Cold War policies and the dance between British and American interests in the Indian Ocean. I also hope the study of two diasporas may create a framework that can be applied more broadly from Philippines to Myanmar to Egypt.

Within the discipline, my proposed essay collection adapts Amitav Ghosh’s explorations of the histories of climate change, migration, and global capital, from a predominantly Bengali standpoint to a South Indian context. Archival material from a Ghosh-inspired historian’s work, Crossing the Bay of Bengal, connecting South India and Malaya, form the basis for the creative strands. While the essay form extends Ghosh’s discussions within The Great Derangement about the suitability of different literary forms when tackling climate change. My project also tries to insert itself into the gap Rob Nixon highlights between traditions of postcolonial ecocriticism and North American environmental writing.

Undertaking this project at NUS is a rare chance to be close enough to issues to change my mind. To be able to fly Scoot to Madurai, take a bus up to Penang, spend weekends at regional archives, learn Tamil, work closely with local experts on these themes, and build relationships that can shape knowledge. NUS’s joint-programme with King’s College also provides an opportunity to work with creative nonfiction faculty and access the colonial archives in London. At a time, when research on Asia is often written out of faraway universities, when Anglophone writing from the peripheries is often studied separately from regional language literatures, and writers are increasingly reliant on the university for jobs, the time and freedom the NUS PhD allows to pursue a question in this region through a hybrid critical-creative thesis, is precious.

(Contributed by Gautam)

Poetry Shortlist | Singapore Literature Prize 2020

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!

Find out more about the shortlisted titles here:

Get A Gathering of Themes here:

Read about the collection here:

NUS awards Edwin Thumboo Prize 2020 to four pre-university students for outstanding literary work

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.

The Edwin Thumboo Prize Winners
The Edwin Thumboo Prize will be awarded to (clockwise from top left): Ms Loh Su Jean (winner); as well as merit prize winners – Ms Chu Shuai Wu Freyja, Ms Silvia Suseno and Mr Ng Zheng Yang.

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).