The Singapore Prize – An Endowment Fund For Historical Writing in Singapore

singapore prize

The Singapore prize recognises books that have made a significant impact on the nation’s literary landscape, while encouraging a thriving writing scene in Singapore. This year’s shortlist features works on topics ranging from the history of an estate to the politics of detention. The winning work – Sembawang by Kamaladevi Aravindan – explores the lives of ordinary citizens caught up in political upheavals. The Singapore prize is a biennial award worth S$100,000 and was first launched in 2014 in support of the SG50 programmes that celebrated the country’s fifth decade of independence. It is administered by the National University of Singapore’s Department of History.

NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow Kishore Mahbubani was part of the panel that decided on the first winner for this new prize. The idea for the cash award was borne out of an opinion column that he wrote in April 2014. In it, he called on local philanthropists to donate a sum of money to be awarded for the best historical writing on Singapore. A reader responded to his call, offering S$500,000 to be placed in an endowment fund that would generate interest and support the prize.

“It’s important for a nation to have its own history, and it’s equally important for the world to know about Singapore,” said Mahbubani. “It’s in the imagination that nations are held together, and a rich knowledge of our past is a critical glue.”

The prize was established by the Singapore Heritage Society to encourage academics, authors, writers and readers to explore the richness and diversity of Singapore’s history. A total of 20 nominations were received this year, including a memoir by a former president and a book on the history of sarong kebaya. The finalists were announced on Thursday and will be honoured at a ceremony next month.

The Earthshot prize is supported by Temasek Trust, investment company Temasek Holdings, decarbonisation investing platform GenZero and non-profit conservation organisation Conservation International. This year, Standard Chartered joined as a founding partner to help scale the impact of the prize and reach out to new audiences. Last year, the prize funded projects like a team from Oman that was developing ways to eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and a company from Kenya that was making reliable cooking stoves from waste metal. A series of public engagement events will be held in conjunction with the 2023 award ceremony to enable people to learn more about these breakthrough solutions.