NUS establishes new literary prize in honour of Singapore’s prominent poet Edwin Thumboo

Four pre-university students will be recognised for their outstanding literary works

The Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has established a new annual academic prize to recognise outstanding English Literature works by Pre-University students. 

The Edwin Thumboo Prize, which is set up to honour one of Singapore’s most distinguished poets and literary scholars, is administered by the Department with support from the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE). The Prize is funded by generous donors, including patrons of the arts and former winners of the Angus Ross Prize.

Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo is one of Singapore’s earliest poets. An accomplished literary practitioner and critic, he dedicated his life to the composition and study of English Literature. Many of Singapore’s thinkers in the field acknowledge him as their early mentor and guide. 

His work is studied in schools, both locally and abroad, and featured in public places in Singapore. At NUS, Prof Thumboo had previously served as Head of the Department of English Language and Literature, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Director of the NUS Centre for the Arts. He introduced postcolonial literature to the university, and championed reading informed by deep historical knowledge. He has also received numerous awards, including the Book Award for Poetry in English (1978, 1980 and 1994), Southeast Asia Write Award (1979), The Cultural Medallion (March 1980), ASEAN Cultural and Communication Award for Literature (August 1987), Public Service Star (August 1991), the Meritorious Service Medal (2006), and Distinguished Service Award (2008).

Associate Professor Michelle Lazar, Head of the NUS Department of English Language and Literature said, “We are grateful to the donors who initiated and donated to the Edwin Thumboo Prize. The award aims to promote excellence in the study of Literature at the pre-university level. We are very encouraged by the quality of the entries and the high level of critical thinking displayed in the essays.”

Four outstanding pre-university students to receive the inaugural Edwin Thumboo Prize

Winners of the Edwin Thumboo Prize were selected through a rigorous process. In April 2018, government pre-university institutions, including those offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, were invited to nominate one candidate each. Ten pre-university institutions had nominated students for the inaugural competition. 

Each nominating institution had to submit a recommendation for their nominated candidate. The candidates were also required to submit a piece of academic writing on a literary text or topic, and the writing should not exceed 10 pages. 

The selection panel for this year’s Prize included Dr Jane Nardin, who is from Yale-NUS College, and 1997 Angus Ross Prize Winner, Mr Aaron Maniam, who is an award-winning poet. The panel reviewed the submissions, looking particularly for an excellent grasp of the written word, and a sensitivity to its significance as a creative endeavour. The literary works by four outstanding students had impressed the selection panel.

Mr Gan Chong Jing from Raffles Institution has been selected as the winner of the inaugural Edwin Thumboo Prize and will receive a cash prize of S$200. He had impressed the selection panel with his outstanding essay on the theme of forgiveness in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Chong Jing’s work was subtle, elegant and demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the play. It navigated complex and rich ideas while displaying coherence, fluency and economy of expression.

Chong Jing said, “I would not have gotten here without every single one of my literature teachers, who not only taught me everything I know but also showed me how to love the written word for all its depth and beauty. Neither would I be here without my parents, who read to me when I was too young to read, stocked a house full of books and filled my childhood with stories. I owe this to all of them.”

Three Merit Prizes will also be awarded to Ms Jane Lee Jia Hui from Dunman High School, Ms Lim Yi Jun from River Valley High School, and Ms Yew Jien Huey from Victoria Junior College. They will each receive a cash prize of S$100. 

The prize presentation ceremony will be held at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on 26 April 2019.