The NUS Singapore Prize For Historical Fiction

singapore prize

Imagining history is the glue that holds societies together, says an NUS researcher who mooted a new prize to honour Singaporean writers of historical fiction. The prize, to be awarded next year, is the first of its kind for a book that has a major impact on the nation’s understanding of its past. The NUS Singapore History Prize is open to all publications on any time period or theme with a clear Singaporean dimension. A panel of judges will select a winner and announce it in October.

The inaugural prize, backed by the government and administered by NUS, will award $50,000 to the author of an outstanding publication that makes a substantial contribution to Singaporeans’ understanding of their national history. The prize is a reflection of the importance NUS attaches to the study of Singapore’s history, and its value in shaping our identity as citizens today.

Archaeologist John Miksic’s book, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800 (available here), made the shortlist after proving that the island was a bustling trading port in the early 1300s. Miksic began digging in the Fort Canning area in 1984 and discovered glass shards, bronze bowls and coins that prove that humans inhabited the area since at least the 1200s.

His 491-page tome, published in 2013, is up against a historical novel with a personal slant, Kamaladevi Aravindan’s Sembawang (2020, available here). It details life at the estate of that name over five decades. “It takes a layperson’s perspective on history and what it meant to average people,” said the academic, who consulted the community for research.

Several other books have a more scholarly flavour, with two historians and two geographers vying for the prize. They are joined by poetry by Yeow Kai Chai and Mok Zining, and non-fiction by former Singapore Writers Festival directors Peter Borschberg and Derek Heng.

Prince William, who has called for action to tackle environmental problems, is to visit Singapore this month for the awards ceremony. He will also meet local activists at the United for Wildlife summit and see their efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade.

Twenty-nine local businesses ranging from heritage brands to regional players were recognised at the awards ceremony, held on Wednesday (Oct 25). Healthcare provider StarMed Specialist Centre won the Promising Brands category, while co-living operator Coliwoo won in the Rising Brands category. The other winners included construction company Craftwork, which won in the Emerging Brands category; and suicide-prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore, which received the Special Merit award. Ng Kim Yong, minister for trade and industry, congratulated the winners and encouraged them to continue their work. He said: “I hope the success of these homegrown enterprises will inspire other businesses to invest in branding and innovation, and help create even more jobs and opportunities for our citizens.” The awards are presented by Lianhe Zaobao. Other sponsors include Air France and Singtel. The event will be broadcast live in the US on November 6. The prize is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.