The inaugural singapore prize was launched in 2014 to support programmes to mark Singapore’s 50th anniversary. It is the first prize in the country devoted to history and is administered by NUS’ Department of History.
The award recognises a work that best epitomises, inspires and promotes the Spirit of Singapore. Its selection panel comprises academics from SUSS and other Autonomous Universities, distinguished writers and critics as well as publishers. This year’s shortlisted works explored themes ranging from the history of an estate in Singapore to the politics of detention.
Clara Chow’s novel, ‘The Book That Went Missing’ won the top honour for fiction, while WOHA Architects’ Kampung Admiralty senior housing development was selected as the winning project in the non-fiction category. The prize was presented at the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize awards ceremony in December 2021. The winner in each category receives a cash prize of $20,000 and a voucher worth $10,500 from the National Library Board. The remaining prize money is donated to charity by the Lee Kuan Yew Foundation.
A total of 12 top prizes were awarded, including a prize for children’s literature, a literary essay and an art criticism. The Singapore Press Centre said that the prize aims to “recognise and celebrate the best in published writing across multiple genres and languages, as well as encourage literary culture amongst all Singaporeans.”
In addition to the main categories, the award also comes with various special awards for works that have a strong social impact. One such award is the Harvard Prize Book (Singapore) which is given to books that demonstrate altruism, and is aimed at encouraging civic engagement. The prize is funded by the Harvard Alumni Association of Singapore and is awarded in partnership with the National Library Board.
Professor Miksic’s work earned him the top honour in the history category because it lays the groundwork for a fundamental reinterpretation of Singapore’s historical narrative. It reveals how bits of historical information in literary records such as the travels of Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, and references to Temasek and Longyamen, were clues that point to the existence of a pre-modern Singapore.
He was congratulated on his victory by NUS President Prof Kishore Mahbubani, who pointed out that nations are essentially imagined communities, and history is an important shared imagination. “The study of the past is crucial to the development and well-being of any nation,” Mahbubani said.
The other winners of the Singapore prize are Sembawang by Kamaladevi Aravindan, which traces a family’s struggle through leftist political movements and detentions in Southeast Asia, as well as State Of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang, which looks at how ordinary people were affected by the coronavirus pandemic. All the finalists are available at Kinokuniya bookstores, and are also listed on the NUS website. In the future, organizers hope to expand the scope of the prize by allowing for works in different mediums, such as movies or comics, that can tell stories of Singapore’s history more effectively.