Stella Kon

Singapore Infopedia


Stella Kon (b. 1944, Edinburgh, Scotland–), a playwright, novelist, short-story writer and poet, is best known for her monodrama Emily of Emerald Hill, which has been performed locally as well as internationally.1 The winner of several playwriting competitions in the early 1980s,2 Kon currently resides in Singapore.3

Early life
Kon came to Singapore in 1948 at the age of three.4 Her paternal great-grandfather was Lim Boon Keng, while her maternal great-great-grandfather was Tan Tock Seng.5 As a child, Kon lived in a mansion called Oberon at Emerald Hill.She attended Raffles’ Girls School (RGS) and later, the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore).7

At the encouragement of her mother, Kon began creating stories when she was very young.Having written down the stories that Kon narrated to her, Kon’s mother went around showing her daughter's stories to her aunties and teachers.Kon affectionately calls her mother her first “publisher”. Kon’s first play performed at RGS was The Fisherman and the King, which was written when she was a Standard Three student at the school. Her amateur works at this stage were influenced by writers such as Enid Blyton and J. R. R. Tolkien.10

Kon’s early exposure and love for theatre came from her mother, who was a leading amateur actress (going by the stage name Kheng Lim) in the local theatre scene in the 1950s. Kon’s mother had studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and Kon had often accompanied her there for rehearsals.11

During her university days, Kon wrote short stories that were featured in campus publications such as Focus. Her first published work, Mushroom Harvest, appeared in Lloyd Fernando’s 22 Malaysian Stories in 1962.12

Following her marriage, Kon left Singapore for Malaysia in 1967. In 1975, she published a collection of plays for students titled The Immigrant and Other Plays.13 Kon was in Malaysia for about 15 years, before moving to Britain (where her children studied) for about four years.14 She returned to Singapore in 1987.15

Kon’s works centre on themes that are distinctly Singaporean, such as national awareness, moral values, cultural and social heritage, and personal integrity. Readers and audiences will be able to identify with the Singaporean lifestyle in her plays. Kon’s writings re-create the feelings of living in Singapore and being a Singaporean. Thus, she portrays the consciousness of a Singaporean in her works.16 

Kon draws inspiration from the early literary traditions of China, Malaya and India, such as the Ramayana.17 Her Catholic faith and strong interest in fantasy are other influences apparent in her works.18 Through her writing, Kon has been able to express her Asian cultural, religious and mythical roots, as well as heritage.19

Emily of Emerald Hill
Emily of Emerald Hill
 is arguably the most-performed play in both Singapore and Malaysia since it was first staged in Seremban, Malaysia in November 1984.20 It is one of Singapore's most loved creations with many aspects intrinsic to the Singaporean identity, including the search for true self, the celebration of our heritage, as well as the grit and determination to overcome adversity through sheer perseverance. Malaysian actress Pearly Chua has played Peranakan matriarch Emily Gan more than 60 times since 1990. Other theatre professionals who have performed the role include Leow Puay Tin, Margaret Chan and Ivan Heng.21

From 2000 to 2001, the play went global with performances at the arts festivals of Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Auckland, New York, Hamburg, Berlin and Munich. In 2002, Tan Tock Seng Hospital staged the monodrama  – directed by Chin San Sooi and performed by  Pearly Chua – to raise funds for its AIDS programme.22

In 2005, Kon became president of the Musical Theatre Society, now the Musical Theatre Limited (MTL), which produced nine of her plays, including Emily the Musical in 2012.23 She currently sits on its board of directors.24

 Winner, Singapore National Playwriting Competition, for The Bridge. 

1982: Winner, Singapore National Playwriting Competition, for The Trial and Other Plays. 
1983: Winner, Singapore National Playwriting Competition, for Emily of Emerald Hill. 
1994: Merit Award, Singapore Literature Prize, for Eston. 
2008: South East Asian Writers Award26

Published works
 The Immigrant and Other Plays 

1977: Emporium and Other Plays27
1982: The Trial and Other Plays28
1982: Dracula and Other Stories29
1986: The Scholar and the Dragon30
1989: Emily of Emerald Hill 
1990: Dragon's Teeth Gate 
1992: Silent Song 
1992: The Bridge31
1995: Eston 
1971: A Breeding Pair32
2002: The Human Heart Fruit 
2003: Exodus (A Journey of Faith): A musical33 
2009: Lost in Transit was produced by Musical Theatre Limited34

2012: Merlion Rising was produced by Musical Theatre Limited

2012-2013: Emily of Emerald Hill – Singapore Identity on Stage (held at the Peranakan Museum)35

 Lim Kok Ann, grandson of Lim Boon Keng. 

Mother: Rosie Seow Guat Kheng, great-granddaughter of Tan Tock Seng. 
Brothers: Su Min, Su Chong and Su Hui. 
Sister: Sing Lim. 
Children: Mark and Luke. 

Nureza Ahmad

1. Stella Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill (Singapore: Raffles, 2000), 107 (Call no. RSING S822 KON); Richard Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion: Stella Kon Gets Her Groove Back,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 1, no. 4 (July 2002); Arti Mulchand, “Emily Goes Out to the World,” Straits Times, 1 March 2000, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion.”
3. Klein, R. D. (Ed.). (2001). Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature (Vol. 4)Singapore: Ethos books, p. 179. (Call no. RSING 809.895957 INT)
4. Klein, Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, 179.
5. “Stella Kon: Family Background,” Emily of Emerald Hill, accessed 9 February 2017.
6. Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 106.
7. “About Stella Kon,” Emily of Emerald Hill, accessed 9 February 2017; Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 106.
8. Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion”; Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 179.
9. Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion”; Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 179.
10. Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion”; Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 179, 180, 190; Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion.”
11. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 180; Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion.”
12. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 181.
13. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 179, 181; S. Kon, The Immigrant and Other Plays (Singapore: Heinemann Educational, 1975). (Call no. RSING 822 KON)
14. Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion.”
15. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 179.
16. Kenneth Kwok, “Oh Emily, Yours Is a Life Worth Reliving,” Straits Times, 19 May 1999, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Mulchand, “Emily Goes Out to the World.”
17. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 182, 194–95; “Shades of Ramayana in Play about Drug Addicts,” Straits Times, 4 April 1987, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 190–91.
19. Lord, “Konfrontation and Konversion”; Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 178, 180–91.
20. “Performance History,” Emily of Emerald Hill, accessed 11 June 2017.
21. Kwok, “Yours Is a Life Worth Reliving”; Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 1–2.
22. Mulchand, “Emily Goes Out to the World”; Clara Chow, “The Bibik Is Back for a Good Cause,” Straits Times, 2 September 2002, L8. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Stella Kon,” TributeSG, accessed 25 June 2018.
25. Ting Mei See, “Two Stella Kon Plays to Be Staged,” New Paper, 27 February 1989, 18 (From NewspaperSG); Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 111.
26. TributeSG, “Stella Kon.”
27. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 197; Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 108.
28. Kon, Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 109.
29. “Stella Kon: Family Background,” Emily of Emerald Hill, accessed 9 February 2017.
30. Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 110.
31. Klein, Studies in Singapore Literature, 197.
32. Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 108.
33. Emily of Emerald Hill, “Stella Kon: Family Background.”
34. TributeSG, “Stella Kon.”
35. TributeSG, “Stella Kon.”
36. Emily of Emerald Hill, “Stella Kon: Family Background”; Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill, 107.

The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we are able to 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.


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