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Literary Arts

Kirpal Singh

Respected poet, cultural critic and academic.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

The works that Singapore writers produce that speak honestly—rather than works that are very well-crafted—are the works that are respected around the world.

Born to a Sikh father and a Jewish-Scottish mother in Singapore in 1949, Kirpal Singh has established his reputation as an outspoken and respected poet, cultural critic, academic, and—more recently—creativity guru. With three books of poetry, multiple editing stints for prestigious journals, and international recognition for his creative output, Singh is a distinct voice in the literary landscape of Singapore. Beginning with his first volume Singapore Pot-pourri (1970), collated during his A-level student years, to his acclaimed anthology Catwalking and the Games We Play (1998), Singh’s legacy goes beyond published poetry to his standing as a creative influencer in Singapore.

Born in Singapore in 1949, but uprooted to Malaysia shortly after his birth, Kirpal Singh is best known to many for his pared down, honest voice in his volumes of poetry. Singh’s first foray into poetry was when he penned a tribute piece about his primary school teacher when he was a mere nine year old. That first attempt would ink the beginnings of his path and passion in the written word.

Through his school days at Raffles Institution in the 1960s, Singh was a budding editor, collating the works of Singapore writers and publishing Singapore Pot-pourri (1970). As an undergraduate, Singh continued to push the Singapore writing agenda, publishing Articulations, an anthology of seven rising poets in 1972.

It was also during this time at the National University of Singapore that Singh met and was taught by other Singapore literary icons Lee Tzu Pheng and Edwin Thumboo. Their works and worldview would later be influencing factors in Singh’s own poetic language. Singh’s poetry would come to be known for its uncomplicated but nevertheless evocative and provocative themes, often expressed in a forthright, and sometimes irreverent, tone.

A proponent of creative thinking, Singh then went on to pursue a dual path of academic and mentor, and literary practitioner. As a lecturer and researcher, Singh’s works have been disseminated at plenary sessions across top universities including Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge, and has reaped provocative and controversial response in his steady challenge of current, socio-creative thoughts.

A literary and cultural critic with a particular research interest in post-colonial literature, Singapore and Southeast Asian literature, technology, and creativity thinking, Singh is a frequent grant recipient and guest contributor to academic journals. His poetry has also won wide recognition, and he is a frequent speaker at international writers’ festivals in Adelaide, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Toronto and Kent.

Singh recently retired as an associate professor leading creative thinking at the Singapore Management University, and continues to be a respected literary and creative figure in Singapore.

Timeline

10 Mar 1949

Born in Singapore.

Jun 1949

Moved to Perak, Malaysia.

1957

Returned to Singapore.

1958

Writes his first poem, about his primary two class teacher.

1967 to 1968

Enrolled in Raffles Institution.

1970

Teacher, Adult Education Board (AEB).

Edited and published poetry collection Singapore Pot-pourri.

1972

Edited and published poetry anthology Articulations.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Mexico.

1973

Graduated with B.A. Hons (English), University of Singapore.

1973 to 1976

Research Scholar/Lecturer, University of Singapore.

1976

Graduated with M.A. in Technology and the Modern Novel, University of Singapore.

Received Colombo Plan scholarship by Public Service Commission to pursue Ph.D in English in University of Adelaide.

1976 to 1978

Colombo Plan scholar and part-time lecturer, University of Adelaide and South Australian Institute of Technology.

1977

Founding Member, Centre for Research in New Literatures, Flinders University, Australia.

1978

Wrote and published Twenty Poems.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Adelaide, Australia.

1978 to 1980

Instructor, National University of Singapore.

1980

Receives Ph.D, University of Adelaide, Australia.

Co-edited and published The Stellar Gauge: Essays on Science Fiction Writers.

Edited and published Wonder and Awe: The World of Science Fiction.

1980 to 1984

Lecturer, National University of Singapore.

1986

Wrote and published Palm Readings: Poems.

Edited and published Critical Engagements: Singapore Poems in Focus.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Toronto, Canada.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

1988

Edited and published Asian & Pacific Short Stories.

1991 to 1993

Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, Nanyang Technological University.

In-charge (various capacities including deputising for the Dean), Literature/Drama Programmes, Nanyang Technological University.

1993 to 1994

Director, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. First Asian to hold the position.

1993 to 1999

Head, Division of Literature and Drama, Nanyang Technological University

1996

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Kent, UK.

1997

Distinguished International Writer, International Writing Programme, University of Iowa.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Broadway, UK.

1997 to 2000

Member, School Advisory Committee, Ministry of Education, Singapore.

Advisor, National Arts Council, Singapore.

Chairman, Singapore Writers Festival.

Advisor, Australian Studies Association.

1998

Wrote and published Cat Walking and the Games We Play.

Edited and published Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, Volume 1.

1999

Edited and published Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, Volume 2.

Co-edited and published Literature & You: Approaching Ficiton, Poetry, Drama & the Unseen Text, Vol. 2.

2000

Wrote and published short story Monologue, interlude, monologue.

Edited and published Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, Volume 3.

Edited and published Rhythms: a Singaporean Millennial Anthology of Poetry.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Perth, Australia.

2000 to 2001

Coordinator, Communication Skills Programme, Singapore Management University.

2000 to 2005

Associate Professor of Communication Skills and Creative Thinking, Singapore Management University.

2000 to 2002

Founding Director, Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies (now known as Wee Kim Wee Centre), Singapore Management University.

2000 to 2003

Coordinator, General Education (General Electives) Programme, Singapore Management University.

2001

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Hong Kong.

2002

Member, International Advisory Board, The Huxley Annual.

Edited and published The Merlion and the hibiscus: contemporary short stories from Singapore and Malaysia.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Manila, Philippines.

2003

Wrote and published non-fiction work Thinking Hats and Coloured Turbans: Creativity Across Cultures.

2003 to 2009

Member, PSB Academy Board, Singapore.

2004

Head of Singapore Chapter, East-West Centre Association.

Director, American Creativity Association. First Asian and non-American to hold the position.

Board Member, American Creativity Association.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Somerset, UK.

2004 to 2006

Member, College Council of National Healthcare Group, Singapore.

2005

Member, International Research Foundation for Development (IRFD) Board.

Chairman, Specialist Panel (Literature), National Arts Council (for Cultural Medallion).

2006

Co-Director, Centre for Creativity Across Cultures, Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA.

Co-Director, Summer Institute for Creative Leadership, University of Southern Maine, USA.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Bali, Indonesia.

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Malaysia.

2007

Vice-President, American Creativity Association.

Member, The ARTSFUND Committee, Singapore.

2008 to Present

Director, Wee Kim Wee Centre, Singapore Management University.

2008

Invited to perform at an international arts and literary festival in Bali, Indonesia.

2010

Chairman, American Creativity Association (International).

Represented Singapore at The World Expo 2010, Shanghai, China.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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