Gone are the days when we entered a bookstore, scoured desperately for a bookshelf titled “Singapore Literature” only to leave with the staff telling us, “Got the Social Studies book. You want?” These days, we can take a trip to local independent bookstores like Booktique Where Writers Shop and BooksActually, and satiate ourselves with the Cyril Wongs and Philip Jeyaretnams of our times. Flip through a book and you can find a musing on a neighbourhood in Ang Mo Kio or a poetic observation about an uncle selling teh-tarik. Singapore literature has irrefutably undergone a paradigm shift from cries of national identity to wonders of the sights and sounds of the streets, bringing with it a new, emerging breed of storytellers.

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Spotlighting a pool of established local writers, The British Council has taken a leap with this shift, forming a literary platform for works that have captured the metropolis life. Entitled “Writing the City“, this platform currently features six writers from diverse backgrounds, each one adding a voice to the Singapore narrative. Their collection of works have been presented in the form of book trailers in collaboration with local media and multi-disciplinary artists, extending the ways in which one consumes stories.

We managed to speak with award-winning author of “The Goddess in the Living Room“, Latha, and visual anarchist, ClogTwo (a.k.a. Eman), to discuss about their achievements, struggles as artists and hopes for the local arts scene. In this first part of a two-part series, find out more about Latha’s views on local literature and particularly, Tamil literature in Singapore society.

Latha

Latha (K.Kanagalatha)’s ‘The Goddess in the Living Room’ is collection of translated short stories that were originally written in Tamil. It won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2008.

On Writing the City

Popspoken: First of all, congratulations on being selected as one of the writers spotlighted for this year’s Writing the City! How does it feel to be part of the selected six?

Latha: “I am indeed honoured to be part of the select team of writers. I am particularly delighted to be able to highlight Tamil writing in Singapore to the multi-lingual audience here.”

On The Goddess in the Living Room

Your award-winning book, The Goddess in the Living Room, is a diverse collection of short stories translated from Tamil to English and explores the various narratives of female characters. Why was it important to you to represent the voice of Tamil women in Singapore?

“There are many issues that one can talk about in Singapore, especially with women and particularly, minority Tamil women. I wanted to talk about their sensitivities and response to the varying situations in life and being part of the minority I felt I could honestly talk about it.”

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On Singapore Tamil literature and translated works

I read your recent interview with The Straits Times on Singapore Tamil writing and you mentioned that the genres in Tamil writing are limiting in how they focus on social issues and sound very “moralistic”. Do you feel that this could be a result of a minority complex – that Tamil writers want to find some power over social issues? If so, why?

“I do not think so. Tamil writers here in the main take to the pen merely as a hobby. There is not much of readership for Tamil writing in Singapore. There is also no critical analysis of Tamil writing nor any form of discussion.

As a writer who has had her works reproduced into different languages, what is your take on translated works? I understand that with Goddess in the Living Room, some of the language got lost in translation? And yet, the translation has helped access a wider audience. How should writers approach the problems that come with translation?

“Yes, there is a problem of losing the nuances in translation. Identifying a good translator is a big challenge as there are very few of them who can translate literary works. The writers should work closely with the translators often by sitting down to explain the context of the story.”

Where do you hope to see Singapore Tamil literature in the next 20 years?

“My heart yearns for a new breed of writers in different genres.”


“The Goddess in the Living Room” can be found in local bookstores.

Find out more about Latha here.

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They are young, passionate, and have a lot to say. Meet author Latha and visual anarchist ClogTwo in a two-part series on “Writing the City” as it celebrates a blooming pool of local talent.

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