Whether you’ve won or lost, there is one thing everyone knows: winning a Singapore Prize is a big deal. The prize money is impressive: the winner gets a cash jackpot of up to $2.3 million, and each of the 49 shortlisted books wins an equal amount of book vouchers. The book vouchers can be redeemed for various goods, including books, movies, and food.
But the winnings don’t stop there: finalists also get a chance to participate in a pitch competition with judges who can provide investment or support to help them take their projects to the next level. Unlike other major literary prizes, the Singapore Prize is open to all authors and publishers who publish in English. Interested parties are required to submit a pitch that outlines their ideas, how they intend to deliver them, and their intended audience and market.
The third annual Earthshot Prize ceremony took place on Tuesday in Singapore, with celebrities like Cate Blanchett and Ted Lasso actress Hannah Waddingham attending. The event was hosted by actor Sterling K. Brown, and featured performances by the bands One Republic and Bastille. Other guests included former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is a trustee on the Earthshot board.
This year’s prize was awarded to archaeologist Professor John Miksic, who won the NUS Singapore History Prize for his work Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800. The book debunks the common myth that Singapore’s history began with the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles, and instead argues that the city-state was an ancient trading hub and a key link between Asia and Europe.
Miksic, who works at NUS’ East Asian Institute, said his work was a “fundamental reinterpretation of the history of Singapore.” Other books in the shortlist included works about the history of the sarong kebaya and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, as well as research into the Bukit Ho Swee fire.
There were 192 submissions for this year’s prize, down from 224 in 2020. Organizers blame the pandemic for the decline in submissions. In addition to the main prize, the NUS Prize also offers a Readers’ Favorite exercise that lets the public vote for their favorite of the shortlisted books.
Professor Kishore Mahbubani, senior advisor (university and global relations) at NUS, says the prize is a “great way to promote engagement with Singapore’s history.” He adds that there may be plans to expand the range of works that can qualify for the award. For instance, he says, the prize could eventually be opened up to fiction, movies, and comics, as long as they are about Singapore. The prize was launched in 2014 to mark the SG50 celebrations. It is funded by the Temasek Foundation. The winner is selected by a panel of judges, which this year includes historians, writers, and a business leader. The judges also give special recognition to two outstanding runner-ups in each category.