A politically charged novel on Singapore’s detentions is the winner of this year’s SingLit Prize

Local writer Jeremy Tiang’s novel about the leftist movements and political detentions in Singapore and Malaysia is among 18 winners of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize (SLP). State of Emergency, Tiang’s debut novel published in 2017, won the top prize in the English Fiction category.

The book follows an extended family from the 1940s to present day amid political upheaval in the region, taking its material (and name) most prominently from the Malayan Emergency between 1948 and 1960. It fell into public spotlight when Tiang had part of his grant from the National Arts Council withdrawn, midway through writing. He eventually completed the manuscript, which went on to become a finalist for the 2016 Epigram Books Fiction Prize. In SLP’s English Fiction category, State of Emergency was among five shortlisted titles, all of which are published by Epigram Books.

Other English titles that won the SLP this year were Samuel Lee’s A Field Guide to Supermarkets in Singapore for English Poetry, and Melissa De Silva’s “Others” Is Not A Race that emerged top in Creative Nonfiction. Both are published by BooksActually’s publishing arm Math Paper Press.

The winners of the biennial national literary award were announced in an awards ceremony yesterday (Aug 6) that was open to the public for the first time. While there are only 12 categories spanning the genres of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry in the four languages, an additional six winners emerged thanks to unexpected couplings of co-winners. Each top winner receives a cash prize of $10,000; and each co-winner and merit winner $5,000.

In a humorous parallel, past winners of the SLP include Sonny Liew’s The Art of Chan Hock Chye in 2016, which too had its NAC grant withdrawn for “sensitive content”. 2014 English Fiction winner Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe had less of a bumpy debut, but also contains its own allegories to local politics. So is the right way to create art in Singapore to be badass and/or have your grant withdrawn? It’s sure starting to seem like it.

You can pick up State of Emergency for $24.90 here