National Library Board Singapore

Singapore Literary Pioneers


Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1936, Goh grew up in a middle-class family and received his early education in Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur. He left for college in Ireland and later entered the University College in Dublin to pursue his studies in medicine. Battling initial feelings of loneliness as a foreign student, Goh took to writing. Inspired by the writers whom he met and encouraged by the publication of his works in the university magazine, Goh left medical school to devote himself to writing but later returned to his studies. After his graduation, he moved to Singapore and worked as a medical practitioner. He also held many honorary positions in the Arts. As Chairman of the National Theatre Trust Board between 1967 and 1972, he was responsible for the development of Art and cultural policies of post-independent Singapore, as well as the development of cultural institutions such as the Singapore National Symphony, the Chinese Orchestra and the Singapore Dance Company.

Goh was among the pioneer Singapore writers who attempted to define post-independent Singapore literature. He is one of Singapore’s earliest dramatists. In the 1960s, he wrote and produced three plays - The Moon is Less Bright (1964), When Smiles are Done (1965)and The Elder Brother (1966). He also founded Centre65 which organised art activities like poetry recitals, painting exhibitions, talks and forums. In 1964, Goh started and edited Tumasek, one of the earliest literary magazines.

Goh’s first novel If We Dream Too Long (1972), is widely recognised as the first true Singaporean novel. The book won him the National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Prize in 1976 and it has been translated into Russian, Tagalog and Japanese. In the novel, Goh explored the theme of searching for self and meaning amidst the dreariness and aimlessness of an increasingly urbanised and materialistic Asian society, a subject which he revisited in his other novels.

Besides plays and novels, Goh’s poems are also widely read and published in various international magazines and anthologies such as The London Magazine, Poetry International, Commonwealth Poems of Today, and New Voices in the Commonwealth. They have been translated into Chinese, Malay, Tagalog, Russian and German too. In addition, he has participated in international writer conferences and poetry readings held in England, Russia, India, Korea, Hong Kong, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

Goh received the Cultural Medallion Award for Literature in 1982. In 1986, he and his family migrated to Canada.He died of pneumonia on 10 January 2010.