Beyond the First Decade: the Singapore Short Story in English

Mary Loh, MA (National University of Singapore)

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Singapore literature of the first decade is the documenting of the growth of a national identity, a culture which could be marked as "Singaporean". It is interesting to note that as the literature developed, it strengthened the consciousness of what Singaporean means. To a great extent, Singapore literature has not been merely a reflector of this growing awareness. It has given the emergence of a national identity a certain impetus by disseminating these ideas.

1988 marked a landmark year for the short story in English with the publication of both 0, Singapore! Stories in Celebration and First Loves. In the years that have followed "First Loves", there has been a noticeable increase in interest in all forms of local literature. The number of publication titles has escalated in every literary genre; whether it be the short story, novel, poetry anthologies and drama.

Two separate strains emerged from the single root that was planted in that first decade. What is common to both is the striving towards a greater sense of the universal rather than the local. Unlike the anthologies of the first decade which sought to locate the Singaporean within the context of his own community, the new anthologies seek to establish the Singaporean as part of a larger world community. As a result, one of the key concerns is the need to confront change.

The first strain is essentially an continuation of the mainstream which was established in the first decade of publishing. Woo Keng Thye and Lim Thean Soo both continued to produce anthologies well into the decade following the first. Nalla Tan, whose short stories appeared in The Sun In Her Eyes and Singapore Short Stories, Volume I produced a substantial collection of short stories entitled, Hearts & Crosses while in 1992, Singapore's most prolific short story writer, Catherine Lim brought out two collections published within the same year, Deadline for Love & Other Stories and The Woman's Book of Superlatives. Both women writers explore the fragile relationships between men and women, exploiting the familiar language and narrative structure of their earlier stories. However, the difference is significant, in that both writers raised the problems of women who were fast adapting to a modern environment and yet trapped within the social confines of their traditions and culture. The stories reflect the ongoing dilemma of the modern woman in Asian society where the society has changed dramatically but her own situation is not changing quickly enough.

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