The Singapore Prize is awarded every three years to an outstanding publication that has made a lasting impact on Singaporeans’ understanding of its history. The award is administered by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of History and carries a cash award of S$50,000 for the winner.
The NUS History Prize has announced six works that have been shortlisted for the second run of the awards, which aim to stimulate “engagement with Singapore’s history broadly understood”, make its nuances more accessible and generate a greater understanding among Singaporeans. The works include the novels Home Is Where We Are and Sembawang; the non-fiction work Imperial Creatures by Timothy P. Barnard; and the poetry collection Not Great, But At Least Something by Clara Chow.
This year’s award is being held under a theme of resonance. Organizers say it’s a timely one, as Singaporeans are now thinking about the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s changed their lives.
It also marks the first time in the history of the prize that a writer has been shortlisted in two or more categories across two different languages. Former Straits Times journalist Clara Chow, 44, was shortlisted in English fiction, creative nonfiction and Chinese poetry.
Another prize went to a Japanese scientist for a waste water treatment technology that has helped Singapore recycle its scarce resources. Kazuo Yamamoto, 67, developed a submerged membrane bioreactor that could treat waste water more efficiently than existing technologies at the time.
His breakthrough sparked the Singapore government’s interest in using this technology to help boost its recycled water production and eventually lead to the prize. Ng Joo Hee, the head of the national water agency, said that Yamamoto’s invention had enabled Singapore to use water that would otherwise have been wasted.
Makbul Mubarak’s Indonesian drama Autobiography, which premiered at the Venice Horizons strand in September and has since won silverware at festivals such as Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Golden Horse Film Festival and Marrakech, took top prize at the SIFF Silver Screen Awards. Russian filmmaker Marusya Syroechkovskaya’s documentary How To Save A Dead Friend, which screened at the same event, was awarded the audience award.
The other awards were won by Malaysian writer and satirist Suratman Markasan for Honing the Pen, Volume 2; Wang Gungwu, 91, for Home Is Where We Are Going; and Singaporean archaeologist John Miksic for Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, 1300-1800. Despite the fact that Prof Miksic’s book is based on his own excavations of Fort Canning, he said that he wrote it for the many people who had volunteered to help him with his research.
The Singapore prize was created in 2014 and is now administered by the NUS Department of History, but it was originally conceived as a way to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary. The competition is open to books published in the four languages of English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.