Approaches to Teaching Singapore Anglophone Literature

September 3, 2010 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

On August 4, 2010, Dr Catherine Carey (Teaching Consultant in HCI’s English department) attended an all-day workshop conducted by Professor Shirley Geok-lin Lim called “Approaches to Teaching Singapore Anglophone Literature.” The workshop was sponsored by the National Book Development Council and held at the National Library. Following is Dr Carey’s report on the event:

Shirley Geok-lin Lim

From reading her memoir Among the White Moon Faces, I knew that Lim grew up among her father’s people in Malacca but periodically travelled across the Straits to visit her mother, who had deserted the five children when the father’s Bata shoe store failed. I was interested in the tensions she described so vividly: how in the eyes of her father’s family she and her brothers were “not Chinese enough,” yet the father’s clan by her wealthy Peranakan aunt’s standards was crudely “Chinese.” Lim, a scrappy kid, eked out an education, discovering a talent for writing, which led her to marriage in America and a college teaching career.

Lim is a well-recognized scholar in Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies. Her poetry, memoir, and fiction has introduced many readers in the West to Southeast Asia, and she is that disappearing breed of academic who is both scholar and creative writer. She has found a congenial academic home at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but Lim was well into her forties before she overcame her marginalized status as woman, mother, and Asian. She is the recipient of many prestigious prizes for her writing and scholarly work.

Writing SingaporeA primary purpose of the workshop was to launch a new anthology, Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature, edited by Lim and local writers Angelia Poon and Philip Holden. The collection includes primary records of colonial Singapore that present opportunities to predict and compare. For instance, Lim highlighted several pre-independence writings as invitations to discuss “Does history repeat itself?” or “How has Singapore changed and not changed?”

She categorized writers of the “nation-building” period as “inventors” and gave a number of suggestions for interdisciplinary work on the primary materials in the anthology. She singled out later writers that she termed “interveners,” or “critics’ and illustrated their struggle to envision citizenship in the newly forming state. Noting the range of contemporary voices and texts in the anthology, questions surface, Lim believes, not only of who is writing but who is reading. “Depending on the interpretive community, we may not all be reading the same book.” Students might enjoy the task of sorting through the identity progressions raised by the range of literature assembled for the first time especially for the purpose of teaching.

In addition, several Singapore authors “dropped in” to be interviewed by Lim and to read from their works-in-progress. They encouraged the attendees to “write” Singapore also. “Just write the strangers in your head,” advised novelist Suchen Christine Lim. An invitation was also issued to join in the “writing the city” effort sponsored by the British Council and continuing in September.


Entry filed under: Events, NBDCS, NLB, Public Libraries, Singapore Lit.

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Library Club Leadership

Teachers In-Charge:
Mrs Rosalind Lee (SC)
Mdm Chan May Lun
Mdm Shieh Le-shiang
Mrs Kris Koo (Senior AO)
Mrs Wang Meng Juan (AO)

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