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Akshita Nanda
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

Singapore

NLB saga: Singapore Literature Prize gets new judges

The Straits Times | Akshita Nanda | Friday, Aug 29, 2014

Three new judges have been appointed to replace those who quit the judging panel for the Singapore Literature Prize earlier this year, in protest against the National Library Board's removal and pulping of controversial children's titles.

Award-winners in all categories will thus be announced as planned in November during the Singapore Writers Festival, though the shortlist for the English non-fiction category will be delayed by a month, according to a statement yesterday from the prize organisers, the National Book Development Council of Singapore.

The library board is among some 40 members with a presence on the book council, though both organisations have stated that they work independently of each other.

This is the first time the biennial Singapore Literature Prize has offered 12 top prizes of up to $10,000 each for the best works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry in Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil.

In previous years, fiction competed with poetry for one award in each language.

Adding more categories brought in 182 entries in total this year, compared with 57 in 2012.

Mr T. Sasitharan, a prominent arts educator; former journalist Romen Bose; and humanities professor Robin Hemley were originally to judge the English non-fiction category of the prize.

However, they resigned in mid-July after news reports revealed that the library had removed And Tango Makes Three, based on the true story of two male penguins which hatched an egg in a New York zoo; The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, featuring a lesbian couple among others; and Who's In My Family?: All About Our Families, which features various family structures.

In late July, the library agreed to place the still unpulped And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express in the adult section, but the judges did not retract their decision.

As is common procedure, the new judges will not be named until the winners are announced.

The book council's executive director R. Ramachandran says: "This is one of the steps taken by the organiser to ensure that the judging process is impartial."

The new judges will vet 16 submissions for the prize's inaugural English non- fiction category, with the shortlist to be announced on Oct 17, more than a month later than the 10 other categories. The shortlist for those will be announced on Sept 12.

The announcement for the Tamil non-fiction category will also be delayed to Oct 17, "due to a mix-up in delivery of the entries to the judges concerned", the book council said in a statement.

The news of the new appointments allayed the concerns of some publishers that their authors might not be able to benefit from the new categories of awards.

Ethos Books founder Fong Hoe Fang, 59, submitted three books in the English non-fiction category. He says: "The prize makes the author feel that what he's done is worth it. Authors here are not likely to earn a lot of money from book sales.

"There are very few J.K. Rowlings around, but the prize gives confidence that what they have written is something that people enjoy and appreciate."


This article was first published on August 27, 2014.
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