Singapore literary prize awarded to CityU poet

Michael Gibb

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He is a poet, a fiction writer, an expert on modern and contemporary Chinese literature working at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and now the recipient of a major literary award in the region.

Dr Gabriel Wu Yeow-chong, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics, won the Singapore Literature Prize in the Chinese language category for his collection of poems titled Ban Cun Zai (A Half-Existence).

“I am very honoured,” said Dr Wu, who studied at the University of Singapore and the University of Washington, US, before joining CityU four years ago. “The poems are very personal and I am very happy that others have appreciated them.”

The award-winning collection, his fourth volume of published poetry, was inspired by the film The Double Life of Veronique directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. The film suggests that individuals are not complete entities but rather that they live only half a life while their other half exists elsewhere in another reality.

Dr Wu said he saw the movie at about the time he turned 40, about six years ago.

“The film forced me to confront the meaning of life and my own existence,” he said. “It made me think that perhaps we share our lives; that we only exist in relation to another, in the same way that logic and absurdity, for instance, are defined by the existence of the other.”

A Half-Existence comprises poems written between 1995 and 2007. The Book Council of Singapore described the work as “intensely lyrical yet simultaneously calm in contemplating the shape and meaning of being”.

Dr Wu is no stranger to literary accolades. He received the Singapore Young Artist Award in 1998 for excellence in literature and won first prize in the ASEAN Young Artist Award in 1993.

His scholarly pursuits have focused on 20th century Chinese writers such as Eileen Chang, Mo Yan, Guo Moruo and Yu Dafu.

The Singapore Literature Prize is awarded by the National Book Development Council of Singapore. There are four language categories: Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil. Dr Wu was the joint winner in the Chinese category.


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