The First Decade The Rise of the Singapore Short Story in English

Mary Loh, MA (National University of Singapore)

The development of the short story in Singapore mirrors a struggling on-going process of defining our culture, defining what 'Singaporean' means. This process necessarily integrates the delicate balance between the different cultural influences of the ethnic groups present in Singapore, each with its rich cultural traditions and the still-pervasive influence of the British who left behind a legacy of a British education system. Further, add to the equation the challenges of modernisation, keeping up with the rest of the world with the speeding developments in technology and ideology. While these strains assisted the growth of small nation-state into a modern Asian city-state, with its heart in the past and its face looking forward into the future, the tensions between changing value systems and circumstances engage in a dialectic exploration of Singaporean culture. Hence, the Singapore Short story revolves around how people come to terms with who they are and with the many confusing changes in their life and society.

Today, it is possible to trace through the development of Singapore short story, an expanding apprehension of what it means to be Singaporean. In keeping with the analogy of art, the short story has been likened to a single snapshot and a collection of short stories, to an exhibition of images at an art or photography show where the reader or viewer is presented with perspectives, almost epiphanic of the subject. Through the images, one may yet learn something of the artist, the writer. Thus one may see how a collection of short pieces separately framed but created by the same author could fully express a writer's view of life. Collectively the various views of the writers could be taken to give the reader a vista of the context or society from which they originate.

The Singapore short story has been defined as one written by a writer who is born or lives in Singapore, for an audience which is Singaporean about things which concern Singapore. The setting may be Singaporean and the characters may be Singaporean but these are not canon. This definition may be simplistic but if one were to examine the short stories of the first decade, one would find that this definition would quite aptly fit.

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