Sonny Liew’s ‘Charlie Chan’ Leads Singapore Literature Prizes

In News by Dennis Abrams

Every two years, honors are given for outstanding work in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.  A record number of submissions—235 across the twelve categories—marks the 2016 awards.
An excerpt from a page of the Singapore Literature Award-winning 'The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye' by Sonny Liew. Image used by permission of Epigram Books, all rights reserved.

An excerpt from a page of the Singapore Literature Prize-winning ‘The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye’ by Sonny Liew. Image used by permission of Epigram Books, all rights reserved.

The Malaysian-born Sonny Liew, who lives in Singapore, is not a stranger to success as a comics artist, painter and illustrator. His 2014 ‘The Shadow Hero’ with author Gene Luen Yang was a New York Times bestseller. As we learn here, his much-praised new (and locally controversial) ‘The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye,’ a graphic biography, if you will, is now making a strong statement among literary awards.   — Porter Anderson

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Earlier, Funding for Liew Book Was Withheld
The National Book Development Council of Singapore, referred to as the Book Council, has presented 22 awards—including merit and commendation honors—across 12 categories at this year’s Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) ceremony.

The biennial SLP awards are made in all four of Singapore’s official languages: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.

Among the winners:

Author and illustrator Sonny Liew. Image used by permission of Epigram Books, all rights reserved.

Artist and illustrator Sonny Liew. Image used by permission of Epigram Books, all rights reserved.

Sonny Liew is a first-time winner, given the English Fiction Award for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, the first graphic novel to win the Singapore Literature Prize. Already published in the US by Pantheon Books, the book has drawn international praise for what its original publisher, Epigram Books in Singapore, describes as a “biography showcasing the life and work of Chan Hock Chye, a pioneering but largely forgotten comics artist in Singapore. With a career spanning more than five decades, from pre-independent Singapore through its three Prime Ministers,” Epigram’s information reads, “Chan’s work reflects the changing political and economic environment in Singapore.”

A part of the success of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is credited by observers in Singapore to the fact that an $8,000 National Arts Council grant for its publication was at one point withdrawn amid criticism that Chan’s politically charged original work presented an unfavored depiction of Singapore’s political development.

There’s more information on the project in this promotional video from Epigram Books:

More From the Singapore Literature Prizes
  • The English Poetry prize has been shared this year by Cyril Wong for The Lover’s Inventory and Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde for I Didn’t Know Mani Was a Concepualist.
  • Yeng Pway Ngon is the recipient of the Merit Award for Chinese Fiction, giving him his fourth award: he won the SLP in the Chinese category in 2004, 2008, and 2012.
  • The Singapore Literature Prize also shines a spotlight on new literary talents on the rise: Sithuraj Ponraj wins the Tamil Fiction Prize for his first collection of short stories Maariligal while also receiving the merit award for his first poetry collection, Kaatraai Kadanthaai.
  • Another debut writer and award recipient is Danielle Lim, co-winner of the English Non-Fiction Prize for The Sound of SCH: A Mental Breakdown, A Life Journey. She shares that prize with Peh Shing Huei, author of When the Party Ends.

Full cover art Charlie ChanThis year, the National Book Development Council of Singapore welcomed MPH Bookstores as the Official SLP 2016 Bookstore. With this new partnership, all of the shortlisted SLP titles in all four of Singapore’s official languages are available under one roof.

In addition, The Book Council has been working closely with MPH Bookstores, publishers, the National Library Board (NLB), the National Heritage Board (NHB) and other organizations to actively promote the shortlisted authors and their works to the public through public events as well as mainstream media including radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines. The promotional campaign, which will continue well into 2017, is to include “meet the author” events at MPH stores as well as a variety of other venues, writing workshops for both the general public and local schools, along with SLP author appearances at literary festivals outside of Singapore.

In a news release, the Book Council’s Claire Chiang is quoted as saying:

“Since 2014, the Book Council has been working hard to boost the recognition of shortlisted and winning authors beyond the award announcement, with author talks and school events throughout the year and numerous other programs to promote the winners. We are making headway and raising awareness of SLP and our many talented authors at home and abroad but there is still much more to do. I hope that with the support of the literary community and the local media the Book Council will be able to bring the SLP and its winning and shortlisted authors to an even wider audience in the coming year.”

A Complete List of Winners

English Fiction

  • WINNER: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
  • It Never Rains on National Day by Jeremy Tiang
  • Moth: Stories by Leonora Liow
  • Nine Cuts by Audrey Chin
  • The Widower by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, trans. by Alfian Sa’at

Chinese Fiction

  • MERIT: 《戲服》 英培安 (Opera Costume by Yeng Pway Ngon)
  • COMMENDATION: 《放逐与追逐》 谢裕民 (Exile or Pursuit by Chia Joo Ming)
  • COMMENDATION: 《双口鼎一村-那些年那些事》 张挥 (Shuang Kou Ding Yi Cun by Cheong Weng Yat aka Zhang Hui)

Malay Fiction

  • WINNER: Air Mata di Arafah by Peter Augustine Goh
  • Bayang-Bayang Yang Hilang by Peter Augustine Goh
  • Dari Perang Datang Sampai Kamoe San Masuk Melayu by Suratman Markasan
  • Terbelah Bintang Subaru by Leyla Shuri

Tamil Fiction

  • WINNER: Maariligal by Sithuraj Ponraj
  • Melbaculaso by Krishnamurthi Mathangi
  • Paramapadham by Suriya Rethnna

English Poetry

  • CO-WINNER: I Didn’t Know Mani Was a Conceptualist by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde
  • CO-WINNER: The Lover’s Inventory by Cyril Wong
  • After the Fall: Dirges Among Ruins by Eric Tinsay Valles
  • Deeds of Light by Tse Hao Guang
  • One Thousand and One Nights by Gwee Li Sui
  • We Were Always Eating Expired Things by Cheryl Julia Lee

Chinese Poetry

  • MERIT: 《逐想像而居》 吳耀宗 (Live Where the Imagination Is by Gabriel Wu)
  • MERIT: 《航海纪事》 陈维彪 (The Sea Diary by Tang Jui Piow)
  • 《都市录》 沈璧浩 (A City’s Story by Sim Piak How)

Malay Poetry

  • WINNER: Tafsiran Tiga Alam by Hamed Ismail, Hartinah Ahmad, and Samsudin Said
  • Kastil Aisya by Noor Aisya bte Buang
  • Kota Singa by Leo Suryadinatan

Tamil Poetry

  • MERIT: 4 Flowered Garland for Singapore by Varadharajan AK
  • MERIT: Kaatraai Kadanthaai by Sithuraj Ponraj
  • Adolescent Love by Naa Aandeappan
  • Alai Pidunkiya Sorkal by Malarvizhi Elangovan
  • The Face of the Soul by Saba Muthunatarajan
  • Kaivilakku Kadavul by Segar s/o Muniandy

English Non-Fiction

  • CO-WINNER: The Sound of Sch: A Mental Breakdown, A Life Journey by Danielle Lim
  • CO-WINNER: When the Party Ends by Peh Shing Huei
  • In Time, Out of Place by Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin, trans. by Shelly Bryant
  • Let the People Have Him by Loke Hoe Yeong
  • Who is Magic Babe Ning? by Ning Cai

Chinese Non-Fiction

  • WINNER: 《我所知道的李光耀》 陈加昌 (LKY Whom I Knew by Chin Kah Chong)
  • 《父亲与我》 尤今 (Father and I by Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin)
  • 《成长在李光耀时代》 李慧敏 (Growing Up in the Era of Lee Kuan Yew by Lee Hui Min)
  • 《广东妈姐》 李国樑 (Guangdong Majie by Lee Kok Leong)
  • 《以诗和春光佐茶》 柯思仁 (Tea Time in Spring With Poetry by Quah Sy Ren)

Malay Non-Fiction

  • MERIT: Rentak Rebana by Ahmad Azmi bin Haji Mohamed Ishak
  • COMMENDATION: Sekolahku Tinggal Kenangan by Hafiza Talib

Tamil Non-Fiction

  • COMMENDATION: CK Makadoom Saiboo and Singai Nesan by Kotti Thirumuruganandam
  • COMMENDATION: Kamban Kaattum Kanaikal by Varadharajan AK
  • COMMENDATION: Nanavu Desam SG50 by Mohamed Kassim Shanavas
  • COMMENDATION: Singapore Tamil Munnodigal by SP Panneer Selvam
About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.