By Lo Hoi Ying
“The corner coffeeshop is the only one smack in the middle of the long curved stretch of Frankel Avenue — the only existing landmark apart from the Caltex station that had survived all these years. There used to be a provision shop and the old-style bakery right next to it. But those were all gone now, replaced by a Javanese space and a chichi interior designer’s showroom that served the more up-market residents who now populated this once-modest neighbourhood.”
This excerpt from Verena Tay’s Balik Kampung series touched my heart. In a few words, she captured the essence of the neighbourhood, along with the memories of it. Having spent my junior college days in the East Coast area, I could easily picture this scene come to life.
Singaporean literature, or SingLit, brings me joy because it provides a sense of familiarity and helps me explore the Singapore narratives from different points of view.
Local literature enhances our sense of identity and allows us to understand issues involving heritage and multiracial ties.
It is a pity that Singaporeans are missing out on this.
According to a survey by the National Library Board, 70 per cent of Singaporeans have read at least one book in the past year. However, a separate survey by the National Arts Council reported that three quarters of this group have not read books by local authors.
Perhaps we should start discovering local stories written by us about ourselves.
The mama shop in the corner; the playground with the mosaic dragon; memories of our alma maters that have since closed down.
SingLit tells stories of places and people who have come and gone. As the country moves forward and the older generations pass on, these memories and pieces of our heritage can live on in the pages of our books.
These are the stories that venture beyond the shiny exterior of Singapore to explore the issues and problems we face, reminding us of how conservation and progress sometimes cannot go hand in hand.
Having our lives documented in local books ensures fair representation, as our stories are told by authors who belong with us. They provide valuable insight by discussing important issues from our perspective. They pen down the emotions we cannot find the words to express.
It is empowering to flip through a book and be able to say, “Hey, I recognise this place,” or “Wow, my relatives said the same thing to me too!” We resonate with these characters and their circumstances. These moments remind us that our everyday stories are worthy of being told.
Through storytelling, we gain a sense of identity and a greater sense of self-worth. And through the development of characters that we feel close to, we get to explore the Singapore we call home.
By Singaporeans, for Singaporeans
SingLit is written by Singaporeans, for Singaporeans.
In support of the growing local arts scene, Singaporeans need to stop shifting their eyes to the West when searching for products relating to the arts, culture and heritage. Like poet Loh Guan Liang mentioned in a Straits Times article, “When you don’t read what Singapore writers have to offer, what you create becomes a pale copy of Western voices.”
Singaporeans might feel that the arts scene here is lacklustre, but if they look around, there is much local authors and artists have to offer. Only with increased demand from audiences will the market, and in turn, the arts scene, be incentivised to grow.
There is a whole new world for us to discover in SingLit. The connection we feel when reading SingLit might be something foreign texts can never offer us. So the next time you reach for a book written by a foreign author, why not switch to a local novel instead?