SINGAPORE — A captivating biography, Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100, won the inaugural Singapore University of Social Sciences’ (SUSS) Dr Alan HJ Chan ‘Spirit of Singapore’ Book Prize 2023.

The book, written by seasoned TV producer and writer Woon Tai Ho, traces the artist’s humble beginnings and the controversies, innovations, and breakthroughs in his art.

Woon took home the top prize of $30,000, Singapore’s richest literary prize, at the award ceremony, held at the Conrad Centennial Singapore on Apr 23. SUSS Chancellor, Madam Halimah Yacob, was at the  event as the guest of honour and to present the award to the respective winners.

The inaugural competition, which attracted 43 entries, was made possible by a $1 million donation by the late Confucian scholar and philanthropist Dr Alan Chan, who passed away in November 2023.

“I am pleased that we now have an award that focuses on the Spirit of Singapore. There is so much to explore, discover, and affirm in our Singaporean make-up, the individual and community spirit that got us to this stage as a thriving nation, and how we can move forward to assure our future. The late Dr Alan Chan’s motive is laudable, and I hope the award will encourage many more writers and publishers to generate high quality works on this important topic,” said Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President Emeritus of SUSS and chair of the judging panel.

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Photo: Facebook screengrab / woon.ho.5

Published by World Scientific, the winning book delves into the life of Lim Tze Peng (picture above), a former teacher and school principal who became celebrated as an artist in his 80s. Soul of Ink is more than just a biography; it’s a testament to human resilience, the pursuit of artistic excellence, and the unwavering dedication that continues to inspire even at the age of 100. 

The judges, deeply impressed by the book’s intimate portrayal of Lim, a distinguished Cultural Medallion recipient, praised Woon for his elegant prose, thought-provoking, and beautifully written piece.

One judge remarked that the story “perfectly captures the essence of the Singaporean spirit,” highlighting Lim’s dedication to self-improvement and innovation throughout his life.  This dedication, the judge further noted, “resonates with Lim Tze Peng’s place within our national cultural identity.”

Photo credit: Singapore University of Social Sciences

The runner-up, Khir Johari’s “The Food of Singapore Malays: Gastronomic Travels Through the Archipelago” (picture above), published by Marshall Cavendish, received a well-deserved merit prize of $5,000. 

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Johari’s book transcends mere recipes and portrays Singapore Malay cuisine as a cultural tapestry, intricately woven deep with the community’s identity.  One judge noted that the book ‘conveys the love of food among Singaporeans and the connectedness with the region in defining Malay food, which shows the characteristics of Singapore as creative and inclusive.’

“The judging panellists were most impressed by the scope and depth of the spirit of Singapore as expressed by the authors in a variety of book genres. These included fiction, non-fiction, graphic content, and poetry,” commented Triena Ong, chief judge of the book prize.

The other books in the competition’s shortlist included; ‘And the Award Goes to Sally Bong!’ by Sebastian Sim, ‘Eat Here Or Take Away? All About Singapore Hawker Culture’ by Sylvia Toh Paik Choo and others, and ‘Standing Tall: The Goh Chok Tong Years, Volume 2’ by Peh Shing Huei.

The inaugural SUSS Dr Alan HJ Chan ‘Spirit of Singapore’ Book Prize aims to specifically recognise authors whose works convey the spirit of Singapore. Their literacy work should encapsulate and include values such as equality, diversity, religious harmony, meritocracy, pragmatism, and resilience, with an emphasis on education, innovation, and community.