From literary fiction to middle-grade series, Singapore’s new literary voices are getting louder, and their works finding new homes far away from the tropical city-state. Whether it is a true story, an anthology, or a poetry collection, the works are often about human nature and predicament.
Here, in alphabetical order, are 12 contemporary voices (and their best or latest works) that will strike a chord with readers, local and overseas.
Clara Chow: “Dream Storeys”
A collection of stories based on buildings that Singapore architects dream of, “Dream Storeys” is a hybrid of journalism and fiction that juxtaposes interviews with the city-state’s urban visionaries with tales that grow out of those conversations. Tales about a single mother in a self-destructing shopping mall, an orphanage-cum-nursing home in a tree house, political prisoners escaping a revolving jail, for instance, explore an alternative Singaporean landscape on paper and the people who might have lived in it.
Chow, a journalist with Singapore’s main newspaper, The Straits Times, has contributed short stories to various anthologies and journals, including Asia Literary Review, Blunderbuss magazine, Singapore Quarterly Literary Review, Cheat River River, and Stockholm Review of Literature.
Hassan Hasaa’ree Ali: “Selamat Malam Caesar” (“Good Night Caesar”)
This anthology of short stories, inspired by Hassan’s reading of Julius Caesar, explores themes of corruption and betrayal in modern Singapore. The narratives cover a variety of genres including science fiction and mystery with stories such as the quest for immortality and its consequences, the erosion of culture in the modern era, the dependence on technology, and the ethics and responsibilities of a human being. Many of the stories are drawn from the author’s own experience as a registered nurse.
Hassan has written many short stories—including “Amnesia” and “Homeostasis”—and won various local competitions in the Malay Short Story category. “Selamat Malam Caesar” was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for Malay Fiction.
Balli Kaur Jaswal: “Sugarbread”
Shortlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015, “Sugarbread” tackles the universal story of family, identity and belonging. Pin, the protagonist, must not become like her mother though nobody will tell her why. She seeks clues in her mother’s cooking when she is not fighting other battles, such as being a bursary girl at an elite school or facing racial taunts from the bus driver. Then her grandmother moves in and installs a new set of house rules. Old secrets start to surface but will Pin be able to handle the truth?
The author of “Inheritance”, Jaswal was born in Singapore, raised in Japan, Russia and the Philippines, and studied creative writing in the United States. She received writing fellowships from the University of East Anglia and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and was named Best Young Australian Novelist of 2014 by the Sydney Morning Herald. Her latest title, “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows”, is set for June 2017 launch by William Morrow/HarperCollins.
Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde: “I Didn’t Know Mani Was a Conceptualist”
“I Didn’t Know Mani Was a Conceptualist”, a poetry collection from Kon, has been lauded by the Singapore media and fellow authors as the thinking person’s refreshing read. It contains clever prose vignettes that touch on philosophy, speech acts, and language play, and reflects both wisdom and humor. It is the co-winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2016 for English Poetry.
Kon has several books to his credit (such as novel “Singular Acts of Endearment” and poetry collections including “Babel Via Negativa”). A former entertainment journalist, his works span the genres of ethnography, journalism, creative writing, and corporate literature. The first author to win top prizes in two categories at the 2015 Beverly Hills International Book Awards, Kon is also the founding editor and publisher of Squircle Line Press.
Latha: “The Goddess in the Living Room”
Translated from Tamil to English, “The Goddess in the Living Room” begins with the story of Alyssa, who is left with her grandparents on an island off Singapore as a child, and her experience with devastating loss as an adult. It is a collection of short stories where the voices of Tamil women in Singapore are given a powerful outlet by the author.
Latha (or Kanagalatha), who has published two collections of poetry in Tamil (“Firespace” and “A Screwpine in the Snakeforest”), won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2007 for short story collection “Women/Murder”. Her works have appeared in various literary journals in France, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. She is currently the associate editor of Tamil Murasu, Singapore’s Tamil daily newspaper.
Amanda Lee Koe: “Ministry of Moral Panic”
Winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2014 for English Fiction, “Ministry of Moral Panic” is a debut collection of short stories that try to understand Singapore and her denizens obliquely. It is about meeting an over-the-hill pop singer with a faulty heart, two conservative middle-aged women holding hands in the Galapagos, the proprietor of a laundromat with a penchant for sentimental Cantonese songs, and more. Collectively, the stories are fraught with prestige anxiety, moral relativism, sexual frankness, and human connection.
Koe is the fiction editor of Esquire (Singapore) and was a 2013 Honorary Fellow at the University of Iowa’s international writing program. Her short stories have been published in anthologies, magazines, and literary journals in Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States. “Ministry of Moral Panic” has been sold to German publisher, Cultur Verlag.
Lee Kow Fung: “The Search”
A simple yet poetic picture book suitable for kids and adults alike, “The Search” follows the story of a little boy and his penguin friend as they go on an adventure up the mountain. The little boy is in search of something special, what he calls “not being loney”, and the penguin has told him that everything can be found in the mountain. Along the way, they find many things—freedom, tranquility, trust, songs of nature—and eventually, they find each other. The beautiful watercolor illustrations were inspired by the idyllic landscapes of rural Wonju, South Korea.
Known best by his moniker Ah Guo, this author received his Master of Arts degree in children’s book illustration from Anglia Ruskin University. A lecturer at the School of Humanities & Social Sciences at Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Lee is an outstanding children’s picture book writer and illustrator, and is often hailed as “Singapore’s Jimmy Liao”.
Danielle Lim: “The Sound of SCH”
This book is a true story of a journey with mental illness, beautifully told by Lim, who traces her uncle’s untold struggle with a crippling mental and social disease, and her mother’s difficult role as a caregiver. The story takes place between 1961 and 1994, and backdropped by a fast-globalizing Singapore where stigmatization of persons afflicted with mental illness remains deep-seated. It is a raw and unflinchingly honest portrayal of living with schizophrenia.
Lim, a postgraduate from the Oxford University, has written for the Singapore National Gallery as curator of the Ministry of Education’s Heritage Centre. In that capacity, she wrote over a hundred short stories featured as part of the heritage gallery. She is currently a lecturer at two colleges.
A.J. Low: The Sherlock Sam series
This middle-grade series is about humor and geekiness, robots, camaderie of children, and lovable parents. The central figure, Sherlock Sam, is a savvy and plucky kid that goes from one adventure to the next, solving mysteries, and running rings around grown-ups. Andrew McMeel holds the North American rights to this series.
A.J. Low is the pseudonym of a husband-and-wife team (Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez). Jimenez, who was born in California to Mexican immigrant parents, became an immigrant himself when he moved to Singapore after graduating from the New York University. He has co-written children’s book “Twisted Journeys #22: Hero City”. For Low-Jimenez, who was born and raised in Singapore, the Sherlock Sam series is her debut writing effort, after years of experience in buying, selling and marketing books.
Simon Tay: “Middle and First”
A collection of short stories, “Middle and First” comes in two parts. The first depicts the Singapore of the 1990s, when old ways of life began to lose their hold amidst a fast-changing society while the second part examines the lives of Singaporeans who were born in the first years of the young country’s independence.
Lauded as “Singapore’s answer to Haruki Murakami” by Monocle magazine, Tay’s first poetry collection, “5”, was on the National Book Development Council of Singapore’s recommended book list. His short story collection “Stand Alone” was shortlisted for the 1992 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. This law professor’s first novel, “City of Small Blessing”, won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2010.
Jeremy Tiang: “It Never Rains on National Day”
Tiang’s debut collection weaves together the lives of its characters across the world: a women fleeing her previous existence meets a fellow Singaporean on an overnight train in Norway; a foreign worker decapitated in a building site accident in Singapore; a Singaporean wife with her British husband awaiting a heart transplant. Wry and unsettling, the stories are about Singaporeans and exiles marking National Day in their own ways.
Shortlisted for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction, “It Never Rains on National Day” is just one of Tiang’s works which have appeared in The Guardian, Esquire (Singapore), Brooklyn Rail, Drunken Boat, Ambit, and Singapore Quarterly Literary Review. He has also translated more than 10 books from the Chinese, and awarded translation grants from organizations such as the PEN American Center.
Gabby Tye: The RunHideSeek Trilogy
The scientists unleashed something that has killed off every living thing, except humans. And somewhere in Singapore, a 15-year-old wakes up with no memory, except that there is something she needs to do. With nowhere to go, she joins a band of young survivors to hunt for food and stay alive. But is that enough? Some adults are changing, developing a new kind of hunger. That starts her adventures, first by running away, then hiding for life, followed by seeking for answers.
Currently a first-year veterinary bioscience student, Gabby Tye’s first book, “Run”, was published when she was in Grade 8. The last title of the trilogy was on Singapore’s Straits Times bestseller list for three consecutive weeks in 2015, making her the youngest Singaporean author to make it to the list. The Simplified Chinese rights to the trilogy has been sold to Children Fun Publishing.