Why are many Singaporeans giving the local literary scene a cold shoulder?

By Rachel Chan, Kimberly Lim & Audrey Leong

You open up the newspapers and read that yet another Singaporean writer has won a fancy American poetry award that you have never heard of before. However, it has been engraved in your mind that the more obscure the prize is, the artsier the book is.


You check out the author’s name and picture at the back of the book. You’ve seen it a couple times at Kinokuniya but felt apprehensive about paying SGD$18.95 for it. You decide to give it a shot now. The book’s good, better than you expected, so you recommend the book to your friends. But they tell you that if they wanted to read contemporary poets, they would rather read Rupi Kaur or Clementine von Radics and you wonder why.


Ms. Eileen Lee, co-founder of Books and Beer, says: “It’s really a mentality, that homegrown thing. For example, home-grown singers don’t make it big until they go overseas…”


But where does this mindset come from?


Mr. Ng Kah Gay, an associate publisher of Ethos Books, said: “There is very little awareness of Singapore literature in mainstream society, and without awareness, the reader does not even have a chance to be open-minded about Singapore literature.”


Even though there has been many recent efforts to generate interest in local literature such as READ! Singapore and the National Reading Movement, Ms. Lee believes that these efforts do well only in attracting people who are already fans of Singapore literature. So, the greatest challenge for local writers is to be able to reach out to more average Singaporeans.




BooksActually Store


Mr. Kenny Leck, the owner of BooksActually, said in an interview with Publishing Perspectives: “The reason why local literature sells so well at BooksActually is because we push it. I don’t just shelve it at a corner. If other bookstores were willing to level up and devote an entire wall to Amanda Lee Koe’s Ministry of Moral Panic, they’d sell loads…”


Alicia Kong, 19, an Animation student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic agreed with Mr. Leck, elaborating that besides Kinokuniya, most major bookstores in Singapore do not even carry local literature.


However, the situation is getting better, slowly but surely. Ms. Pooja Nansi, a Singaporean poet, summarized the Singapore literary scene in three words: “Small, brave and growing.”


“I think there is so much happening in the local literary scene, as compared to 10 years ago,” she added. “Those who were around from that time till now, either writing, publishing or reading within it are so passionate about it, which is why I would say that they’re brave in the face of everything, to keep going.”


Need some local literature recommendations? Here are 4 titles that might pique your interest:


Living in a Time of Deception by Poh Soo Kai

Living in a time of deception by Poh Soo Kai

A memoir by political detainee and one of the founding members of the People Action’s Party (PAP)

Available at Ethos Books


Giving Ground by Theophilus Kwek

Giving Ground by Theophilus Kwek

A poetry collection about the author’s the change of perspectives of Singapore after gaining new knowledge of its history and heritage.

Available at Ethos Books


Moth Stories by Leonora Liow

Moth Stories by Leonora Liow

A collection of short stories about different individuals facing the ugly side of life – A father handling his dysfunctional family, a foreign worker lost as sea and watching his dreams fall apart, a girl who’s ambitions reveal her dark nature etc.

Available at Ethos Books


Saga Seeds by Patricia Maria De Souza

Saga Seeds by Patricia Maria De Souza

A collection of poetry about Patricia’s memories and experiences growing up in Singapore and experiencing the rich culture of the country.

Available at Ethos Books


If these 4 titles aren’t enough, head down to BooksActually for more!


9 Yong Siak St, 168645

Opening Hours: 10AM to 8PM (Tuesday to Saturday)

10AM to 6PM (Sunday and Monday)

Photo courtesy of  Google and Klix Photography