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  • Singapore Literature in English: An Annotated Bibliography
  • Leong Liew Geok
Singapore Literature in English: An Annotated Bibliography Koh Tai Ann (COMPILER AND EDITOR) Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; & Centre for Library Arts and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, 2008. 275 pp. Index, ISBN 978-981-0700-60-7

The product of several decades of research, this annotated bibliography offers a comprehensive overview of Singaporean literature in English from its beginnings in the 1950s, when it shared a common historical lineage with its Malayan, then Malaysian (from 1963–5), counterpart, and before Singapore became a republic in 1965. This substantive work bears testimony to the ambition, efforts and persistence of its compiler and editor, Professor Koh Tai Ann of Nanyang Technological University and her team of research assistants. As Professor Koh writes in her Introduction, it is 'the first annotated and most comprehensive bibliography to date of the entire body of 'Singapore Literature in English'—what previous bibliographies used to describe modestly as 'Singapore Creative Writing'.'

The cut-off date for inclusion of works was December 2007, to enable the manuscript to be prepared and published in time for its launch at the National Library (Victoria Street) on 7 November 2008 during 'Seeking an Audience: A Symposium on Singapore Literature in English'. The 1204 entries, most of which appear in generic sections ('Novels'; 'Short Stories'; 'Poetry'; and 'Drama'), also include anthologies, programmes of literary events like evenings of poetry and music, periodicals and electronic journals. Even allowing for entries which appear more than once by virtue of the genres under which their contents may fall (an example being the triple listing of Sanjay Perera's A Leap in the Dark), 1204 is still a very formidable number. In keeping with the times, there is a section on selected internet sources for author biographies. Separately listed but not numbered are earlier 'Bibliographies of Singapore Creative and CriticalWriting', and selected bibliographies published by the National Library Board.

The bibliography offers the literary scholar, browser or historian a rich repository of primary materials and sources from which to survey or appraise creative production and its consumption in Singapore. To the graduate student in quest of dissertation subjects, the entries and their abstracts offer numerous possibilities for academic exploration. To the observer of the literary scene in English in Singapore, the bibliography provides literary maps of Singapore and highlights several features distinctive of its literary landscape.

The pre-eminence of short fiction (at 289, 'Short Stories' has the highest number of entries) suggests both the lack of a settled narrative tradition and the lack of confidence in sustaining a narrative to novel length. The numerous collections of tales of the supernatural, whether by Russell Lee and his/her team of ghost writers, or by Pugalenthii and Pugalenthi Sr as authors or editors, confirm the popularity and influence of the folk imagination in a modern city state. As one anthology has it, [End Page 124] 'There are ghosts everywhere in Singapore.'A third distinctive feature of Singapore's literary landscape is the significant encouragement given to students. This has resulted in the publication of anthologies comprising works by aspiring writers who participated in creative writing programmes in their secondary schools or junior colleges, or in the annual Creative Arts Programme (CAP) co-organised by the Ministry of Education and the Centre for the Arts, National University of Singapore. Alumni of CAP like Toh Hsien Min and Ng Yi Sheng (winner of the 2009 Singapore Literature Prize for poetry for Last Boy) have gone on to publish their own works. Not least, the relative paucity of entries for Drama (147, compared to 222 for Poetry, 277 for Novels and 289 for Short Stories) confirms its life in performance, not publication. Drama is, in fact, the fastest growing genre in Singapore.

A valuable work of reference, the bibliography reveals an ambivalent, uneasy relationship between 'Singapore' and 'Singaporean'. The 'Singapore' used in the bibliography's title and elsewhere in the introduction may be the result of the project having been mooted in the late 1980s. Read today, it gives the anachronistic impression that the works of citizens and permanent residents cannot as yet lay claim to being...


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pp. 124-126
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