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If you're interested in Singapore literature, these are the local titles you need on your shelf right now

This story was first published on August 31, 2020, and updated on April 22, 2021.

Singapore's literary scene has flourished in recent years. To help you keep up to date with the latest developments—and the talents you need to keep your eye on—we tap on six insiders in the literary arts to share their three picks for Singapore literature: one classic, one new release and one wildcard title, along with why they have chosen the books.

Kamini Ramachandran, Master Storyteller And Director Of MoonShadow Stories

CLASSIC: Let Me Tell You Something About That Night by Cyril Wong

“This collection of short stories is, I think, Cyril’s first published prose work. The fairy tales are so poignant and ethereal—the kind of stories that require you to suspend disbelief and surrender to the rhythm of Cyril’s words. I’ve performed The Boy with the Flower that Grew Out of His Ass [one of the stories from the book] a few times before—the highlight being in October 2019 at the Southbank Centre for London Literature Festival, as part of Cake Theatre’s interpretative work of Singapore literature.”

NEW: Beauty Queens of Bishan by Akshita Nanda

“A rich tapestry of women’s stories that makes for binge-reading. Akshita has an ear for conversations and little nuggets of truth that resonate with people on a personal level. I knew Akshita when she was writing this book—and couldn’t wait for her to complete it!”

WILD CARD: The Short Stories and Radio Plays of S Rajaratnam by S Rajaratnam and edited by Irene Ang

“Few people know that one of our founding fathers was also a man of letters. This collection of plays and short stories offer a glimpse into Malaysia and Singapore of the past. The stories are not easy ... nor are they meant to be entertaining. They reveal the complications of being human and prompt us to think of ourselves. I’ve performed an adaptation of The Tiger and it remains one of the most powerful stories I’ve told. A heavily pregnant woman finds herself face to face with a tiger in the jungle ... ”

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Joshua Ip, Poet And Co-founder Of Sing Lit Station

CLASSIC: Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe

“You haven’t read Sing Lit if you haven’t read Ministry of Moral Panic, which is among the 2010s wave of audaciously imaginative Singaporean prose. This short story collection is the most audacious of them all.”

NEW: Food Republic: A Singapore Literary Banquet, edited by Ann Ang, Daryl Lim Wei Jie and Tse Hao Guang

“You haven’t read all the Sing Lit the editors of Food Republic did to curate this delicious tasting menu for you, with (fancy biscuit) gems from across the history of Sing Lit in this mouth-watering literary anthology.”

WILD CARD: Guards Gone Wild! by Loh Teck Yong

“You haven’t read Guards Gone Wild!—no one has. It’s a self-published memoir by a security guard. Check it out!

“Moral panic, food and security—yup, that sounds like Singapore all right.”

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Ovidia Yu, Author

CLASSIC: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

“I think this graphic novel deservedly became an instant classic. In telling the story of Charlie Chan’s struggles to survive and grow as an artist, it relates the story of Singapore in an accessible and relatable manner. But you can see ‘Charlie Chan’ is an unreliable narrator at times, which in a very meta way reminds us stories depend very much on who is telling them.

“To be honest, I didn’t pick up this book until the furore of its NAC grant being withdrawn. I understand that too—but withdrawing support is not the same thing as censorship. And I love how in the arts and especially fiction, issues and views can be presented, shared and discussed. This is the only way we’ll mature as a people.”

NEW: Nimita’s Place by Akshita Nanda

“I bought this because I like Akshita, but read it because I came to like both (grandmother and granddaughter) Nimitas. Facing outwardly different challenges in India and Singapore, there was a similarity to what they faced. I felt a connection with both these women and even some of the minor characters and feel like I’ve known and miss them.”

WILD CARD: Me Migrant by Md Mukul Hossine

“Md Mukul Hossine’s poems were originally written in Bengali, and ‘transcreated’ by Cyril Wong after being translated into English by Fariha Imran and Farouk Ahammed. I thought the process alone made them worth a look.

“But what comes across in this book is the tender and hopeful dream of belonging, and the commitment to serve and strive. Don’t just read this as a collection of poems by a foreign worker. Most of us are descended from migrants who didn’t leave behind their hopes and dreams. Read these poems as coming from your great grandmothers and great-great-grandfathers. 

“And perhaps this will inspire to write your own poems in response, telling them of this city nation that grew up on the foundation of their labour and dreams.”

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Pooja Nansi, Poet And Festival Director Of Singapore Writers Festival

CLASSIC: One Fierce Hour by Alfian Sa’at

“This debut collection of poems by a 21-year-old Alfian Sa’at has seared itself into me as a Singaporean poet. It’s tender and sharp, political and deeply personal all at once and it is so beautifully lyrical. I go back to those poems all the time when I want to be reminded of how urgent poetry can feel.”

NEW: The Lights That Find Us by Anittha Thanabalan

“I love young adult fiction and this novel is so firmly set in Singapore as it tackles a coming of age with all its hard choices and conversations around belonging and identity. When I first read it I thought it would make so many young people who had never seen themselves reflected in Singaporean fiction before feel really visible. And what more powerful thing could fiction do?”

WILD CARD: Jurong, My Love by Dan Koh

“Using the Bus number 99’s route as a guide, this personal essay is a love letter to Jurong where the author grew up. It includes personal family photos and bursts with affection for a physical landscape that has imprinted itself on his emotional landscape. This extended essay is also a commentary on the places we love and lose in the midst of constant redevelopment and I enjoyed this literary bus ride from start to end.”

(Related: Pooja Nansi On What It Means To Be The New Director Of Singapore Writers Festival)

Cyril Wong, Poet

CLASSIC: The Collected Poems of Arthur Yap by Arthur Yap

“The poet’s poet, the late Arthur Yap didn’t just capture Singaporean life, his poems were intellectually rigorous, aesthetically virtuosic, deadpan, sometimes even bitchy, but never tendentious—an astonishing feat in this polemical island’s cultural landscape. All his poems compiled here will continually inspire and shape the way we think and write as Singaporean poets.”

NEW: The Billion Shop by Stephanie Ye

“A small but powerful chapbook that isn’t just about an antiquated shop selling paper money and other curiosities that Chinese Singaporeans burn as offerings to their dead, the stories here are about intimate connections: places and loves lost to time; older to contemporary ideals investigated and poignantly demolished.”

WILD CARD: The Impractical Uses of Cake by Yeoh Jo-Ann

“A novel reminiscent of the understated-ness of Graham Greene’s prose, its unpretentious narrative—devoid of overt ideological agenda or transparent literary effects—fleshes out a teacher’s revealing encounter with a homeless person and unobtrusively exposes the ambivalent moral and cultural dimensions of contemporary Singapore.”

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Amanda Chong, Lawyer And Poet

CLASSIC: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

“The first graphic novel to be awarded the Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction in 2016, followed by three Eisner Awards (the Oscars of the Comics world) in 2017, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is Sonny Liew in his element. It is a meticulously researched work which cleverly uses allegory and a tapestry of comic styles to tell the story of Singapore’s transition from British colony to nation state through the eyes of an everyman who is forgotten by the history he charts.”

NEW: Parsetreeforestfire by Hamid Roslan

“Hamid Roslan dissects and reconsitutes all our English in his debut poetry collection that was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize for Poetry 2020. Hamid writes with irreverence and an instinct to surprise. He defamiliarises common terms and plays with the inherent musicality of Malay, Chinese and Singlish. Ultimately, he interrogates what language tells us about who we are. In his words, ‘there are as many ways to speak / as the mouth is able to / haunt itself.’”

WILD CARD: Somewhere Else, Another You by Tania De Rozario

“De Rozario is an acclaimed poet and visual artist with an eye for arresting images. Her confessional poetry collection Tender Delirium is one of my favourites. Somewhere Else is my wild card pick for the way it defies genre. It is a literary game book inspired by theories of the multiverse. A throwback to the choose-your-own-adventure books we used to read as kids, except rendered in beautiful prose and with all the weight of an existential crisis.”

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