Michelle Yeoh is arguably the best-known Asian actress around the world. However, a change of pace has been announced for the Malaysian superstar.
Fresh off of her critical and box-office hit, Everything Everywhere All at Once, described as the multiverse movie Dr Strange 2 wanted to be, Ms Yeoh was announced as one of the judges for the 2023 Epigram Books Fiction Prize.
The panel of judges was revealed on June 7. Joining Ms Yeoh on the panel is the director of NUS Press, Mr Peter Schoppert, and Singapore novelists Meira Chand and Carissa Foo.
TISG talked to Mr Edmund Wee, the founder of Epigram books, about how he pulled off the amazing coup of getting a woman of Ms Yeoh’s stature as a judge this year.
Mr Wee had reached out to Ms Yeoh through a relative of the actor, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.
TISG: Where did the idea of asking THE Michelle Yeoh to be one of the judges come from?
Edmund Wee: Some months earlier, I had been offered a yet-to-be-written biography of Michelle Yeoh. So her name remained in my mind when I was thinking up the panel of judges.
TISG: Why Michelle Yeoh?
Edmund Wee: Why not? If you had followed our Prize (which opened to writers in Southeast Asia about three years ago), you would have seen that we have expanded the judging panel to include a non-Singaporean.
So far, they’ve been Malaysians because I have not been able to find judges from the other countries.
TISG: How did you get her to say yes?
Edmund Wee: I did not do anything special. I asked her to be a judge through an intermediary in Singapore.
TISG: What does she bring to the table—or panel—of judges?
Edmund Wee: The judging panel will usually include a non-publishing person. Michelle Yeoh filled both the non-Singaporean role and the non-publishing person.
The panel always has an author, a publisher (apart from myself) or bookseller, a literary academic, and a person not from publishing (but may or may not be related to it). Some of these have been an actress (Janice Koh), an editor (Pamela Ho), a playwright (Haresh Sharma), and a theatre practitioner (T Sasi).
TISG: How would you describe Ms Yeoh as a reader?
Edmund Wee: I do not know Ms Yeoh personally and so would not know what kind of reader she is. I can only guess what novels she might be interested in from her choice of movies.
TISG: What are your own expectations from her and the other judges?
Edmund Wee: I am hoping she will honour us with her presence and join all the other judges at the award ceremony and gala dinner on 14 January 2023. As for the judging, I hope she will bring a cinematic outlook and international view to her evaluation of the manuscripts.
TISG: Last question—how did you and the other heads of Epigram react when Ms Yeoh did say yes?
Edmund Wee: Honestly, we were beside ourselves. Some staff didn’t believe the news, others whooped for joy, and the rest simply went into fandom hysteria.
Life under the circuit breaker: Lessons from Epigram Books’ Edmund Wee
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