The pool of submissions for the Singapore Prize was smaller this year, an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on publishing. But this biennial prize program still has the richest pot for a local book award: 49 titles in 12 categories. The awards are presented by SUSS, which says it “honors writing that champions mindsets and values important to the shaping of Singapore” such as equality, diversity, religious harmony, meritocracy and resilience.
Among the highlights of this year’s awards is a new category for children’s literature. In it, organizers want to recognize books that tell stories about Singapore’s diverse heritage and culture, as well as “inspire and motivate our young.” Those stories, they say, should reflect the “spirit of perseverance and resilience” that is at the heart of the city-state’s story.
Another new category this year is the NUS Singapore History Prize, created in 2014 to mark SG50 celebrations and launched with an endowment gift from an anonymous donor. It aims to widen definitions of what constitutes history by inviting works on the subject from authors of any nationality. It’s administered by the Department of History within NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
This year’s winner in the history category is Professor Miksic for The Art of Collecting, which explores the enigmatic world of ancient Asian art. The book argues that the art of Southeast Asia is far more significant than what’s often seen in museums. It also shows that the region was a key player in ancient global trade, and its art is a reflection of a cultural exchange that has had lasting implications for the modern world.
Several of this year’s winners were first-time recipients in their respective categories. Those include the writers of the English creative nonfiction category, who were a mix of seasoned and emerging authors. Similarly, the shortlist for the Malay category included two directors of the Singapore Writers Festival—one former and one current—Yeow Kai Chai and Pooja Nansi vying with Mok Zining’s debut The Orchid Folios and rmaa cureess (Rama Suresh).
Britain’s Prince William will be in Singapore next month to name the winners of his Earthshot Prize, an initiative he created three years ago to encourage inventors to develop technologies that address climate change. During his visit, he will meet with local groups who are working to combat the illegal wildlife trade, which is estimated to cost $20 billion annually.
In addition to the main prizes, there’s a reader’s choice award for each category. Almost 4,000 people have already voted in this round, about twice the number who did so for the 2020 contest. Voting is open through November 14. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on December 7. The full list of shortlisted works can be found here.