Literary awards and prizes in Singapore

Singapore Infopedia

by Ramli, Nadia


Singapore’s array of literary awards and prizes recognises writers and works of literary merit. The honours are applicable to works in all four official languages of Singapore – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – and genres such as poetry and drama. The official recognition of literary achievements serves to encourage a thriving literary scene. Some of the significant awards include the Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) and the biennial Golden Point Award.

One of the earliest efforts to encourage and recognise excellence in local writing was initiated by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS). Instituted in 1976, the NBDCS Book Awards gave out trophies and cash awards to winning works published between 1972 and 1974. The awards were categorised by genres such as poetry, fiction and children’s books as well as by the four official languages.1

The NBDCS also launched the SLP in 1991, which was originally presented to the best unpublished English-language work. With the largest cash prize being S$10,000, the SLP was one of the biggest literary awards in Singapore at the time.2 Suchen Christine Lim’s A Fistful of Colours was the winning entry in the inaugural year of the competition.3 Then sponsored by local publisher SNP Editions, the competition was held annually until 1998, having pulled out their sponsorship in 1999.4 In 2000, Dymocks Booksellers sponsored the competition and it was renamed the Dymocks Singapore Literature Prize. However, the prize stopped that same year after Dymocks ceased operations here and there was a lack of sponsorship.5 The SLP returned in 2004 as a biennial affair with funding from the NBDCS and the National Arts Council. It also started being awarded to published works with separate categories for each of the four languages.6 However, the literary community voiced concerns over pitting poetry against fiction in the same category. In light of this, there was a new nonfiction category as well as separate prizes for fiction and poetry from 2014.7

In 1993, the biennial Golden Point Award was launched. Jointly organised by the National Arts Council and Singapore Press Holdings, it was then the only multilingual literary award awarded to unpublished works. The scope of the awards extended to poetry in 2001.8 In 2007, the competition implemented a new rule where only unpublished writers are eligible to join, in a bid to identify new creative-writing talent. That same year, The Arts House became the new co-organiser alongside the National Arts Council.9

English-language awards
In 1996, the Montblanc-NUS (National University of Singapore) Centre for the Arts Literary Awards was established, a further boost to the local literary scene. The annual prize was awarded to five local writers: two for English works and one each for Chinese, Malay and Tamil works. Luxury brand Montblanc sponsored the awards for three years. Winners received an award certificate and a limited edition Montblanc pen.10 The awards took into account the wider career of the writer and the less tangible contributions such as conducting writing workshops, seminar presentations and leading writing associations.11

In 2015, local publisher Epigram Books launched the Epigram Books Fiction Prize with a cash prize of S$20,000 – the largest in Singapore – and a publishing contract with Epigram. Open to Singaporeans, permanent residents and locally born writers, the award is for unpublished English-language novels. The inaugural prize was awarded to O Thiam Chin for his novel, The Infinite Sea.12 In 2016, the prize money was increased to S$25,000 for the winner, and three other finalists each received a cash prize of S$5,000.13

Chinese-language awards
Designed to promote local Chinese literature, the Chinese newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau inaugurated the Golden Lion Literary Awards (金狮奖) in 1981. There were only two categories then: fiction and prose.14 After Nanyang Siang Pau was merged with Sin Chew Jit Poh, the resultant entities Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao took over as organisers. More categories such as poetry and playwriting were added in subsequent years.15 By 1991, the biennial award was co-organised by Singapore Press Holdings and the Singapore Association of Writers.16 In 1993, this writing competition for Chinese-language writers, the biggest of its kind, became open to citizens of other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, sparking debate as to whether it was a boon or a bane for the competition.17

In 1999, the Singapore Tertiary Literature Awards (新加坡大专文学奖) was set up to promote Chinese-language creative writing and to nurture local Chinese writers.18 The Singapore Literature Society has also been presenting various literary awards, including the two established awards – Singapore Chinese Literature Award (新华文学奖) and Lien Shih Sheng Award (连士升文学奖) – to provide acknowledgement and recognition of local Chinese-language writers.19 Another Chinese literary award is the Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Chinese Literature Award (南洋华文文学奖).20 The Hokkien Huay Kuan also organises or sponsors literary awards to promote Chinese literature and reading among youths.21

Malay-language awards
In recognition of Malay literary works, the Malay Literary Prize (Hadiah Sastera) was initiated by Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 (ASAS ’50; Singapore Writers’ Movement ’50) in 1975.22 ASAS ’50 conceived the idea for the award in August 1973, and the first awards were presented in 1975 after ASAS ’50 set up the Joint Literary Award Committee with 19 other Malay associations.23

After an eight-year hiatus, the literary awards returned to the scene in 1993.24 Now known as the Anugerah Persuratan (Literary Awards), the Malay Language Council has been organising the biannual event since 1993.25 The council launched three awards in 1993: the prestigious Tun Seri Lanang Award, Hadiah Sastera and Hadiah Sayembara (Competition Awards).26 The Tun Seri Lanang Award recognises an outstanding literary figure who has extensively contributed to, and enriched, the Malay literary scene. The first recipient of the award was Muhammad Ariff Ahmad.27 The Hadiah Sastera spans the genres from poetry to drama (theatre, radio, television, film) to literary criticism. The Hadiah Sayembara was awarded to winning unpublished literary works but was discontinued in 1995, citing other existing similar competitions. That year, the posthumous Anumerta Tun Seri Lanang was added to the awards.28 In 2009, a new Malay literary award for recognising promising individuals, Anugerah Harapan (Promising Award), was included. It is aimed at people under the age of 40 who actively promote Malay literature.29

Tamil-language awards
One of the annual highlights of the Tamil literary scene is the presentation of the Thamizhavel Virudhu (Thamizhavel Award) to an outstanding individual in the literary field by the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers. Named after the founder of local Tamil newspaper Tamil Murasu, Thamizhavel G. Sarangapani, the first award presentation was held in 1988 but was discontinued the following year due to a lack of sponsorship. It was relaunched in 1996 during the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers’ 20th-anniversary celebration.30 Another prize disbursed by the association is the Kannadasan Award, which is given out to young writers who have excelled in any one aspect of written Tamil literature.31

Nadia Ramli

1. M. Girvin and M. Jayapal, National Book Development Council of Singapore, 1969–1978 (Singapore: National Book Development Council, 1978), 6. (Call no. RSING 028.0625957 NAT-[LIB])
2. “$10,000 Prize Launched to Nurture Creative Writing in English,” Straits Times, 1 June 1991, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Singapore Book Council, “Singapore Literature Prize: Suchen Christine Lim,” Facebook, 28 July 2018.
4. Ong Sor Fern, “Sponsor Pulls Out of SLP Awards,” Straits Times, 4 March 1999, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Joshua Lye, “New Literature Prize Launched,” Straits Times, 8 March 2000, 3; Clara Chow, “Literature Prize Makes Comeback,” Straits Times, 25 September 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Chow, “Literature Prize Makes Comeback.”
7. Akshita Nanda, “Lit Prize Not on Same Page as Publishers,” Straits Times, 7 October 2014, 6 (From NewspaperSG); “Singapore Literature Prize,” Singapore Book Council, accessed 17 August 2017.
8. “Time to Find the Write Stuff as Awards Beckon,” Straits Times, 8 March 2003, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Stephanie Yap, “New Rule for Golden Point,” Straits Times, 4 May 2007, 62. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “New Prize for Writers Here,” Straits Times, 6 July 1996, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Lynn Seah, “Veteran Writer Wins Inaugural Literary Award,” Straits Times, 24 August 1996, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Nabilah Said, “68 Writers Submit Manuscripts to Inaugural Epigram Fiction Prize,” Straits Times, 1 September 2015; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, “O Thiam Chin Wins Inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize,” Straits Times, 1 November 2015. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
13. Nabilah Said, “First-Time Author Nuraliah Norasid Wins $25,000 Epigram Book Prize,” Straits Times, 24 November 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
14. Zhǔbàn wényì chuàngzuò sài gǔlì xiězuò fēngqì nányáng shāng bào shè jīn shī jiǎng 主办文艺创作赛鼓励写作风气 南洋商报设金狮奖 [Nanyang Siang Pau initiated Golden Lion Literary Award to promote literary writing], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商报, 31 May 1981, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Dì 41 yè guǎnggào zhuānlán 1 第41页 广告 专栏 1 [Page 41 Advertising Column 1],  联合早报  Lianhe Zaobao, 1 June 1984, 41; Zhōngwénlíng xuānbù xià jiè jīn shī jiǎng zēng shīgē xiàngmù 钟文苓宣布 下届金狮奖 增诗歌项目 [Zhong Wenling announced that poetry category will be added in the next Golden Lion Literary Award], 联合晚报 Lianhe Wanbao, 8 January 1985, 4; “Playwriting a New Vategory in Lianhe’s Golden Lion,” New Paper, 9 January 1989, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Literary Award Winners,” Straits Times, 4 June 1991, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Goh beng Choo, “Awards Open to More,” Straits Times, 9 February 1993, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “简介,”[Introduction],  新加坡大专文学奖 [Singapore Tertiary Chinese Literature Awards, accessed 21 October 2017.
19. “第九届新华文学奖暨第四届连士升文学奖颁奖典礼,” [The 9th Xinhua Literature Award and the Fourth Lien Shih Sheng Award Ceremony], Singapore Literature Society, accessed 2 September 2017.
20. Goh Beng Choo, “Awards Open to More,” Straits Times, 9 February 1993, 9 (From NewspaperSG); “第四届‘南洋华文文学奖,”[Fourth Nanyang Chinese Literature Award], Confucius Institute, NTU, accessed 21 October 2017.
21. “Literary Awards,” Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, accessed 2 September 2017.
22. “About,” Angkatan Sasterawan ’50, accessed 21 October 2017.
23. “Anugerah Persuratan 2015 Commemorative Magazine,” Majlis Bahasa Melayu Singapura, accessed 21 October 2017; Mardiana Abu Bakar, “New Hope for Malay Literature?” Straits Times, 20 February 1993, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Welcome Boost for Literature,” Business Times, 8 December 1992, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Anugerah Persuratan,” Majlis Bahasa Melayu Singapura, accessed 21 October 2017.
26. Tuminah Sapawi, “Boost for Malay Writing,” Straits Times, 10 December 1992, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Sapawi, “Boost for Malay Writing”; Abu Bakar, “New Hope for Malay Literature?”; “Muhammad Ariff First to Win Prestigious Malay Literary Award,” Straits Times, 22 February 1993, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Angkatan Sasterawan ’50, “Anugerah Persuratan 2015 Commemorative Magazine”; Sapawi, “Boost for Malay Writing”; Abu Bakar, “New Hope for Malay Literature?”; “Posthumous Award for Malay Literary Works,” Straits Times, 16 June 1995, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Adeline Chia, “New Award for Malay Writers,” Straits Times, 6 March 2009, 63. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Thamizhavel Virudhu,” Association of Singapore Tamil Writers, accessed 21 October 2017; Rhama Sankaran, “Literary Prizes for Tamil Hero,” Straits Times, 2 May 1997, 22 (From NewspaperSG); A. Mani, “Fifty Years of Singapore Tamil Literature,” in 50 Years of Indian Community in Singapore, ed. Gopinath Pillai and K. Kesavapany (Singapore: World Scientific, 2016) (Call no. RSING 305.89141105957 FIF); “Singapore Writers Festival 2013,” National Arts Council, accessed 21 October 2017.
31. “Kannadasan Virithu,”Association of Singapore Tamil Writers, accessed 21 October 2017.

The information in this article is valid as at 5 December2017 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

The Straits Times’ Life! Theatre Awards


The Straits Times’ Life! Theatre Awards was inaugurated in 2001. It is organised by Life!, the arts and entertainment section of the newspaper The Strait Times, to acknowledge the contributions of theatre productions in Singapore. First announced on 4 January 2000, the award sought to honour the best stage productions,...

Tsung Yeh


Yeh Tsung (b. 17 May 1950, Shanghai, China–), better known as Tsung Yeh, has been the music director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) since 2002. Currently also the music director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra in the United States (US), Yeh is the world’s first conductor to hold...

Dave Chua


Dave Chua Hak Lien (b. 1970, Malaysia–), author of the novel Gone Case, was the recipient of the Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award in 1996. He had been the joint recipient of the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award (short story category) for his work, Father’s Gift, the previous year. ...

Jennifer Tham Sow Ying


Jennifer Tham Sow Ying (b. 1962, Singapore–) is best known as the conductor of the Singapore Youth Choir (now the SYC Ensemble Singers, or SYC-ES), which she has led since 1986. Trained as a composer, Tham has been actively involved in educating young musicians and local audiences on contemporary choral...

Ong Keng Sen


Ong Keng Sen (b. 1964, Singapore–), the critically acclaimed artistic director of TheatreWorks, a local theatre company, is best known for his intercultural Shakespeare-inspired trilogy of works – Lear, Desdemona and Search: Hamlet. He was the artistic director of an international arts festival, In-Transit, held at the House of World...

Singapore Season


Held in key global cities, the Singapore Season is a cultural diplomacy effort to showcase Singapore’s multicultural heritage, vibrant arts scene and attractiveness as a global business hub. The aim is to give audiences in the world’s leading cities a different perspective of Singapore – a city not only efficient...

Roger Jenkins


Roger Jenkins (b. 1953, Singapore – ), Singapore-born Briton turned Singaporean, drama educator, poet, playwright, storyteller, and artistic director of Dramaplus Arts, made his mark here in drama and the arts....

Margaret Leng Tan


Margaret Tan Hee Leng (b. 1945, Singapore–), popularly known as Margaret Leng Tan, is a pianist and a leading figure in experimental music. One of the best-known Singaporean musicians internationally, she is famed for her skill with unconventional playing techniques and in playing the toy piano. ...

Indie music in Singapore


Independent (commonly shortened to “indie”) music encompasses a wide range of musical genres, including rock, pop, metal and folk. Indie music is associated with alternative, non-mainstream productions and forms of distribution. Increasingly, the term “indie music” is also used to refer to musical styles that deviate from the mainstream, popular...

Max Le Blond


Max Le Blond (b. 1950, Singapore–) was conferred the Cultural Medallion for Theatre in 1987. At age 37, he was then among the youngest to receive the award. At a time when the stage was predominantly Anglo-centric, Le Blond relentlessly pushed for “a truly Singaporean theatre, by Singaporeans, about Singaporeans...