Over the years, we have seen great and acclaimed writers and literary geniuses such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway and Twain grace our world. These writers have produced masterpieces which are still regarded as works of art. Their works are still part of literature syllabi in schools.
Singapore is not a nation known for producing great writers. We have had our share of great orators, most notably our founding father Lee Kuan Yew. When it comes to writing, there aren’t many names that come to mind.
Ng Yi-Sheng is one of the few local writers who have achieved recognition. Yi-Sheng is well known as he is one of the few Singaporean gay writers. His works focus on the themes of gay, lesbian and bisexual Singaporeans. His collection of poems, Last boy, even achieved the Singapore national literary award. Truly, a prominent writer.
Yi-Sheng also bucks the trend of Singaporeans through his works, in a good way. Us Singaporeans have a few common traits – straightforwardness, honesty and hard work. While these are all commendable, artists and writers often need that edge to receive acclaim and recognition. Yi-Sheng’s works are a bit controversial and direct. As a result, they have received the acclaim of critics.
Of course, Singapore has more literary geniuses like Philip Jeyaretnam, Catherine Lim and Edwin Thumboo. And yet, considering our diversity in culture, race and experience, we should have had a bigger literary scene. For many years, it was underwhelming. If you think about it, no Singaporean writer’s works are part of a JC or Secondary school syllabus.
It does seem like that trend is changing for the better. A new wave of literary authors are emerging into the scene. Full-time writing is emerging as a profession that interests students and corporate professionals. We have O Thiam Chin’s Now that it’s over, which won the Epigram books fiction prize in 2015, and the famous Amanda Lee Koe, whose Ministry of moral panic won the National literary award for best fiction.
The full potential of Singaporean literature is yet to be exploited. We have such a rich mix of ethnic diversity, gender diversity and sexual diversity. Any kind of person can flourish in our society. Literature is born out of unique experiences and our kind of diversity definitely aids that.
This should provide a stroke of inspiration to young Singaporean students who want to go into the field of literature and poetry. Most students change profession after they graduate to more promising sectors. If, however, you take an academic degree in literature due to a passion for it, don’t give up on becoming a renowned writer. The potential is there.