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Literary Arts

Suratman Markasan

Singapore Malay-language literary pioneer.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

Creativity and discipline must go hand in hand if a writer wants to make his mark in the literary field. It is like song and rhythm which cannot be separated.

The Straits Times, 16 May 1991

Suratman Markasan is one of Singapore’s Malay-language literary pioneers. An educator, community leader, socio-political commentator, poet, and short story and novel writer, Suratman wrote about the Malay experience in Singapore, addressing issues from filial piety to displacement in his award-winning works. A past chairman of the Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union and head of ASAS ’50, he received the S.E.A. Write Award in 1989 and the Tun Sri Lanang Literary Award from the Malay Language Council in 1999. In 2010, Suratman received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature in Singapore.

Born in Singapore on 29 Dec 1930, Suratman Markasan grew up attending Malay schools in the ’40s, and worked as a trainee teacher in Sekolah Melayu Pasir Panjang once he completed his secondary school education.

He then attended the Sultan Idris Training School in Perak, Malaysia, graduating with a teaching certificate. In 1950, he returned to Singapore to teach at the Sekolah Melayu Teluk Blangah and also joined both the Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union and the Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 as a member. This began his long and illustrious affiliation with teaching and Malay-language literature.

In 1971, Suratman graduated from the Nanyang University with a Bachelors in Literature. By then, he had already published two novels and edited two anthologies of Malay-language literature. Although he had always been well-acquainted with the arts before he started publishing his work, writing would become a religious calling for Suratman after the death of his wife in the ’80s. He found meaning in the common issues of the Malay community and religion, and his honest and elegant writings focused on the challenges faced by the Malay community, reflecting critically on themes of race, identity, multiculturalism and nationhood.

From magazine articles to anthologies of poetry, and short stories to essays, his prolific body of work not only resonates with the Singapore Malay community, but overseas as well. Suratman brought his poetry to international poetry recitals in countries such as Osaka, London, Paris and Germany. He also held the honour of being the first Singapore writer to write for the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (The Malaysian Language and Literacy Agency), compiling and publishing Tiga Warna Bertemu, a collection of poems by 41 Singapore poets in an attempt to record the development of Singapore Malay-language poetry from the ’40s and beyond.

Suratman’s desire to help the development of Singapore Malay literature and language led to his being the editor of several publications, including Majalah Sasaterawan, Warita Suara, Ikhwan Darussalam and Khalifah Muda.

Away from his writing table, Suratman was also very active in several literary, language and cultural associations, providing his expertise as deputy president of Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 and Majlis Pusat, chairman of the Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union and information and publishing department of Yayasan MENDAKI, and docent with the Malay language and literature department in the Ministry of Education.

For his contributions, Suratman had been recognised by peers and awards alike. He received the S.E.A. Write Award in 1989, the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Award in 1997, and the Tun Sri Lanang Literary Award and the Nusantara Literary Award in 1999. In 2010, Suratman received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature in Singapore.

Suratman published his novel Dunia Bukan Kita Punya in 2011. He passed away in February 2024, but his work and legacy continue to inspire future generations.


29 Dec 1930

Born in Pasir Panjang, Singapore.

1939 to 1941

Attended Sekolah Melayu Kampung Jaguh, Singapore.


Attended Sekolah Melayu Sepoy Lines, Singapore.

1943 to 1945

Attended Sekolah Pasir Panjang, Singapore.


Attended Sekolah Melayu Sepoy Lines, Singapore.

1947 to 1948

Trainee teacher, Sekolah Melayu Pasir Panjang, Singapore.

1948 to 1950

Attended Sultan Idris Training School, Tanjung Malim, Perak, Malaysia.

Jul 1950 to Dec 1954

Teacher, Sekolah Melayu Teluk Blangah, Singapore.

1950 to 1969

Member, Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union.

1954 to 1956

Member, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.

Jan 1955 to Dec 1956

Teacher, Sekolah Melayu Kampung Jagoh, Singapore.

Jan 1957 to Dec 1960

Teacher, Sekolah Melayu Teluk Saga, Singapore.

1957 to 1969

Secretary, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50


Published poetry collection Mekar dan Segar.

Jan 1961 to Dec 1964

Teacher, Pasir Panjang Secondary School, Singapore.


Published novel Tak Ada Jalan Keluar.

Jan 1965 to Jun 1968

Teacher, Swiss Cottage Secondary School.


Published poetry collection Pertentangan.

1968 to 1971

Attended Nanyang University, Singapore. Gradated with BA in Literature (Malay and Indonesian Studies).

1970 to 1976

Vice-president, Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union.

1971 to 1973

Editor, Majalah Sasterawan, an Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 publication.

Jan 1971 to Jun 1976

Teacher, Tun Seri Lanang Secondary School, Singapore.

1972 to 1985

Leader I, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.

Jul 1976 to Dec 1979

Language and literature consultant, Ministry of Education.

1976 to 1979

Member, Society of Singapore Writers.

1976 to 1980

Special Inspector of Schools, Ministry of Education.


Published poetry collection Persidangan Penulis ASEAN 1977.

Member, Judging Panel, 1st ASEAN Literary Award, Bangkok, Thailand

1977 to 1980

Chairman, Literature Prize, Majlis Pusat.

1977 to 1984

Committee member, Majlis Pusat.

1977 to 1981

Deputy president, Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union.

1977 to 1987

Volunteer Aftercare Officer, Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association Muslim Counselling Service.


Published poetry collection Cerpen-Cerpen ASEAN.


Published novel Matahari Kota.

Jan 1979 to May 1980

Assistant Director (Malay and Tamil Languages), Ministry of Education.

1979 to 1985

Chairman, Literature Prize Committee, Majlis Pusat.

1979 to 1985

Chairman (Language and Literary Department), Majlis Pusat.

Jun 1980 to Aug 1980

Assistant Director (Additional Reading), Ministry of Education.

Sep 1980

Docent (Malay Language and Literature), Ministry of Education.

1981 to 1985

Lecturer, Institute of Education.

1981 to 1986

Chairman, Language and Literature Committee, Majlis Pusat.


Published poetry collection Puisi Temasek.

Published poetry collection Puisi-Puisi Nusantara.

1981 to 1987

Member, Executive Committee, Yayasan MENDAKI.

Chairman, Information and Publishing Department, Yayasan MENDAKI


Published short story collection Gerak dan Dialog.

Received Diploma in Reading Development from Regional English Language Centre

1982 to 1984

Chairman, Singapore Malay Teachers’ Union.

1982 to Mar 1994

Committee member, Malay Language Council.


Published poetry collection Gema Temasik.


Received Book Award (Malay Fiction), National Book Development Council of Singapore, for Gerak dan Dialog.

Published poetry collection Bahasa dan Sastera Nusantara: Sejarah dan Masa Depannya.

Apr 1984 to 1988

Editor, Majalah Sekata, a Malay Language Council publication.


Retires from teaching.

1985 to 1987

Deputy president, Majlis Pusat.

Deputy president, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.

Editor, Warita Suara, a Yayasan MENDAKI publication.

1985 to 1988

Leader II, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50

1986 to 1988

Pro tem President, Malay Language Teachers Association.

Jan 1986 to 1995

Adjunct lecturer, Institute of Education.


Published poetry collection Jalan Permulaan.


Published poetry collection Tiga Warna Bertemu.

Published poetry collection Temasik

1988 to 1989

Committee member, Malay Language Teachers Association.

1988 to 1993

Leader I, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.


Received S.E.A. Write Award. Published novel Subuh Hilang Senja

1989 to 1991

Committee member, World Congress of Poets for South East Asia.

1989 to 1992

Editor, Warita Muis, a Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura publication.


Received Book Award (Malay Fiction), National Book Development Council of Singapore for Perempuan Kerudung Hitam.


Published short story collection Perempuan Kerudung Hitam.

Published poetry collection, Cerpen-Cerpen Nusantara Mutakhir.

Published literary critique From the beginning to two streams of social critique.

Oct 1991 to Oct 1993

Guest writer, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (The Malaysia Language and Literacy Agency).


Published poetry collection Terminal Terakhir.


Published poetry collection Potret Isteri Yang Hilang.

1993 to 1997

Editor, Ikhwan Darussalam, a Darussalam Mosque publication.


Published novel Tiga Lelaki.

Received Hadiah Cemerlang award, National Book Development Council of Singapore.

1994 to Present

Lifetime member, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.


Published short story collection Pertemuan Kedua.

Published poetry collection Journeys: Words, Home and Nation Collection of Singapore Poetry.


Published novel Di Bumi Mana.


Received Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award.

Published short story collection Stories From Southeast Asia.


Published novel Penghulu yang Hilang Segala-galanya.

Published poetry collection, Memories & Desires, a Poetic History of Singapore.

1998 to 2000

Editor, Khalifah Muda, a Masjid Darussalam and PERDAUS publication.


Received Tun Sri Lanang Literary Award. Malay Language Council, Singapore.

Received Anugerah Sasterawan Nusantara award.


Published short story collection Kembali Kepada Al-Quran.

Published poetry collection Rhythms: A Singaporean Millennial Collection of Poetry.

Poetry collection, Pengucapan Puisi Dunia Kuala Lumpur 2000.


Published 70 Tahun Suratman Markasan.


Published poetry collection Balada Suluh Budiman.

Received Anugerah Tokoh Pujangga award, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Malaysia.


Published short story collection Anak Bumi.

Published essay collection Citra Minda.


Published poetry collection Puisi Luka dan Puisi Duka.


Published Bangsa Melayu Singapura Dalam Transformasi Budayanya.


Received Anugerah Khas, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.


Published short story collection Langau Menyerang Masjid dan Cerita-cerita Lainnya.


Published book of children’s stories Agus, Sugus, osofogus dan usus.


Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to literature in Singapore.

Received Anugerah Munsyi Abdullah, Angkatan Sasterawan ’50.

Published poetry collection Puisi-puisi Perjalanan.


Published novel Dunia Bukan Kita Punya.


Novel Penghulu yang Hilang Segala-galanya translated into English and published as Penghulu.


Passed away at the age of 93 in Singapore.


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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