The singapore prize is a literary award given to books that have a significant impact on the public’s understanding of Singapore. The winner of the prize is awarded S$30,000. It is a significant amount, the largest ever for a Singapore book award.
The prize was established through a $1 million donation by Confucian scholar Alan Chan. The aim of the prize is to promote writing that champions mindsets and values that are important to Singapore, such as equality, diversity, religious harmony, meritocracy, pragmatism and an emphasis on education, innovation and community. It is a biennial award.
Last year, a biography of Christopher Bathurst KC, Viscount Bledisloe of Carmarthenshire, won the award for history. Mr Bathurst was a member of Fountain Court Chambers and a leading commercial Bar practitioner who developed a substantial practice in Asia, including Singapore, as well as an active social life and strong philanthropic commitment. He died in 2009.
This year’s winner was Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800 by archaeologist Prof Miksic. He won the prize for “a fundamental reinterpretation of Singapore’s early history, and its place in the Asian context.” Mr Miksic said that his work was based on a new approach to studying the past. “We look at not just textual sources but also artefacts, maps, oral histories and other non-textual data,” he said. “It was a major project of several years’ duration and involved extensive fieldwork.”
Prof Kishore Mahbubani, senior advisor (university and global relations) at NUS, said the prize could be expanded to include fiction or movies. He cited the movie 12 Years a Slave as an example. “We need to expand the ways in which we communicate our history,” he said.
In addition to a cash prize, the winning works receive other benefits such as access to a Southeast Asian film lab and a mentorship program. Gabriela Serrano won best feature for her documentary Please Bear With Me and received a fellowship worth SGD4,000, which includes a residency and script mentorship. Rein Maychaelson won a special mention for his film The Burning Land, while Gladys Ng won a special mention for her work Every Mall Burns the Same.
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