The Big Read: Singapore writers are going places but what’s the next chapter for SingLit?

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SINGAPORE: In 2020, in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singaporean Kyla Zhao felt terribly isolated and homesick as a student at Stanford University in the United States. 

Travel restrictions and grounded flights also left her feeling bereft and unsure if she would see the sunny shores of Singapore again.

In an effort to feel closer to home, Ms Zhao, now 26, sought solace in writing about Singapore.

That eventually evolved into her first novel, The Fraud Squad, a tale of a young woman who infiltrates the local high-society scene in hopes of getting a coveted writing position at a luxury magazine. 

“Writing about places in Singapore and Singaporean food was a nice way for me to think about home while I was halfway across the world,” said Ms Zhao, who initially had no intention of getting her story published.  

In June 2021, Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, picked up her book, which was published in January 2023. Her second book, Valley Verified, followed a year later.

She is now set to release a chess-themed book in September, with a fourth book expected to be out in 2026. 

While authors like Ms Zhao may secure multiple book deals through traditional channels, an alternative path to publication involves winning competitions that frequently offer publishing contracts as prizes.

Mr Max Pasakorn, 28, had his debut chapbook, A Study In Our Selves, published in 2023 via this route. A chapbook is a small booklet or pamphlet containing poems, short stories, or essays, typically produced independently or by a small press. 

His winning submission for the 2022 OutWrite Chapbook Competition detailed his life as a queer youth who was born in Thailand and moved to Singapore as a child. 

His chapbook was published by Neon Hemlock Press, a small, independent press based in the US, with a run of just 100 copies.

Mr Pasakorn, a fresh graduate from Yale-NUS College, said: “It (the chapbook) is a great representation of the voice that I was capable of in 2022. Now, I'm writing a full-length memoir, and it’s going to take me maybe one or two more years.”

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