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Yeng Pway Ngon—Chinese language poet, novelist, playwright and critic—is one of the country’s most prolific authors, having published over 25 volumes of poetry, essays, fiction, plays and literary criticism. Yeng’s work is noted for its examination of the modern human condition, and has been translated into English, Malay and even Dutch. Yeng received the National Book Development Council of Singapore's Book Award in 1988, the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and the S.E.A. Write Award in 2013. In 2003, Yeng received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature in Singapore.
Born in 1947 in Singapore, Yeng’s first foray into arts began in his early school years, where his talent for painting resulted in his winning an art competition in school. However, his interest in painting was daunted by art materials that were costly for a schoolboy living on his pocket money, and he looked for another more affordable avenue to channel his artistic energy. Yeng started reading poetry, setting himself on a literary path that would come to define his artistic career.
When he was in secondary two, Yeng was given an assignment to write an essay on any topic he wished. Instead of an essay, Yeng submitted a poem. Expecting a scolding for not following his teacher’s instructions, he instead received high marks for his poem. His curiosity piqued, Yeng submitted his poem for publication, and was thrilled to find his poem published in the newspaper shortly after. Encouraged by this, he started focusing his creative energy towards writing.
However, Yeng still found reading poetry to be more interesting that writing, but that changed when he started his studies at Ngee Ann College (now Ngee Ann Polytechnic) where he discovered the possibilities of poetry. This began when he acquired a book by Taiwanese poet Ya Xian, and he began adopting Ya Xian’s style in his own poems. He would be similarly inspired later by Taiwanese poet Yang Mu and other modern Taiwanese poets of the ’60s. From these, Yeng formed a modernist poetic voice and style that was his own.
This period also saw the start of Yeng’s literary career. He became the editor and publisher of the literary magazine 《茶座》 Teahouse, and published a poetry collection《手术台上》 On The Operating Table in 1968. In 1969, Yeng graduated from Ngee Ann College with a BA in Chinese Literature, and went on to become the editor and publisher of the literary magazine 《前衛》 Vanguard Monthly. In 1974, Yeng published a poetry collection and a collection of essays, and opened 前卫书店 Vanguard Bookshop at Golden Mile Tower. Two years later, he sold off the Vanguard Bookshop to open 草根书室 Grassroots Book Room, which remained in business for five years before Yeng closed it, putting a temporary stop to his career as a bookstore owner.
From 1978 to 1983, Yeng worked as a newspaper columnist for Chinese daily Nanyang Siang Pau where he wrote the humorous arts criticism column 《说长道短》. In 1983, Nanyang Siang Pau merged with another Chinese daily Sin Chew Jit Poh, and Yeng carried on his work as a columnist with the resulting newspaper Lianhe Zaobao writing insightful essays in the 《人在江湖》 column. He would also spend a year in Hong Kong in 1994 as a freelance columnist for United Daily News, Ming Pao, Sing Tao Daily and Sing Tao Evening News.
The ’80s were a fruitful period for Yeng’s creative endeavours. He wrote radio plays that were broadcast on Rediffusion, and published many books of essays, short stories, and novels. In 1988, Yeng received a National Book Development Council of Singapore book award for his novel 《一个像我这样的男人》 A Man Like Me, which he published the year before.
Subsequently, Yeng became editor and publisher of literary magazine 《接觸》 Encounter in the ’90s and his play 《寄错的邮件》 The Misdelivered Mail was staged by the Singapore Art Theatre in 1993. In 2000, Yeng was invited to be a fellow at the Taipei International Writers-in-Residence programme by the Cultural Bureau of Taipei. This would be a particularly meaningful experience for him to be recognised and appreciated as a Singapore writer in the Taiwanese literature scene.
Through the decades, Yeng's literary output has been greatly influenced by critical milestones in his own life. In 1977, Yeng was detained under the Internal Security Act for his alleged communist sympathies. The four months he spent in detention made him appreciate the freedom he previously enjoyed, and was an eye-opening experience for him that would affect his art. In 2008, Yeng was diagnosed with cancer, and he channelled his personal experience into one of his novels where a character contemplates death with much thought and reflection.
Following his book award in 1988, Yeng would also come to receive many other accolades and honours. His novels 《騷動》 Unrest and 《我与我自己的二三事》 Trivialities About Me and Myself both received the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004 and 2008 respectively, with the latter being named as one of the top ten Chinese novels in the world by Hong Kong magazine 《亚洲周刊》 Asiaweek in 2006. His novel, 《画室》 The Studio, would also receive the same accolade from Asiaweek in 2011. He also received recognition in Southeast Asia, receiving the S.E.A. Write Award in 2013.
In 2003, Yeng received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to Singapore literature.
Yeng passed away in 2021 after a long battle with cancer.
Born in Singapore.
Attended Catholic High School (Primary).
Attended Methodist High School.
Attended Ngee Ann College (now Ngee Ann Polytechnic). Graduated with a BA in Chinese Literature.
Editor and publisher, literary magazine 《茶座》 Teahouse.
Published poetry collection 《手术台上》 On The Operating Table.
Editor and publisher, literary magazine 《前衛》 Vanguard Monthly.
Published poetry collection 《无根的弦》 Rootless Strings.
Published essay collection 《安先生的世界》 The World of Mr An.
Opened 前卫书店 Vanguard Book Shop at Golden Mile Tower.
Sold off Vanguard Book Shop.
Opened 草根书室 Grassroots Book Room.
Closed 草根书室 Grassroots Book Room.
Published essay collection 《说常道短集》 On Various Issues.
Columnist, 《人在江湖》 Man in the World, Lianhe Wanbao.
Published essay collection 《园丁集》 A Gardener’s Collection.
Published essay collection 《人在乡湖》 Man in the World.
Published essay collection 《拍案集》 Collection in Anger.
Published essay collection 《破帽遮颜集》 Collection of Lean Time.
Published essay collection 《风月集》 On the Wind and The Moon.
Published essay collection 《潇洒集》 Collection of Elegance.
Published essay collection 《翻身碰头集》 Collection in Frustration.
Published short story collection 《寄错的邮件》 The Misdelivered Mail.
Published essay collection 《身不由己集》 State of Helplessness.
Published novel 《一个像我这样的男人》 A Man Like Me.
Received National Book Development Council of Singapore book award for 《一个像我这样的男人》 A Man Like Me.
Published novel 《孤寂的脸》 The Lonesome Face.
Published essay collection 《蚂蚁唱歌》 The Singing Ant.
Published English edition of 《一个像我这样的男人》 A Man Like Me, translated by Goh Beng Choo.
Play 《寄错的邮件》 The Misdelivered Mail staged by Singapore Art Theatre.
Moved to Hong Kong.
Freelance columnist for United Daily News, Ming Pao, Sing Tao Daily and Sing Tao Daily News.
Returned to Singapore.
Reopened 草根书室 Grassroots Book Room.
Published literary criticism 《阅读旅程》 Journey of Reading.
Fellow, Taipei International Writers-in-Residence, Cultural Bureau of Taipei, Taiwan.
Play Man and Bronze Statue staged by Singapore Broadway Playhouse.
Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to Chinese literature.
Play Love Story staged by Singapore Broadway Playhouse.
Received Singapore Literature Prize for novel 《騷動》 Unrest, National Book Development Council of Singapore
Play Love Story staged by Hua Gang Play Group, National Taiwan Normal University.
Published novel 《我与我自己的二三事》 Trivialities About Me and Myself.
《我与我自己的二三事》 Trivialities About Me and Myself named one of the top ten Chinese novels in the world by 《亚洲周刊》 Asiaweek, Hong Kong.
Panellist, A Forum of Celebrity Authors, 《亚洲周刊》 Asiaweek, Hong Kong.
Featured writer, Singapore Writers Festival.
Received Singapore Literature Prize for 《我与我自己的二三事》 Trivialities About Me and Myself, National Book Development Council of Singapore.
Published English poetry collection Yeng Pway Ngon Poems 1 [Rebellion], translated by Alvin Pang and Goh Beng Choo.
Published novel 《 画室》 The Studio.
Novel 《画室》 The Studio named one of the top ten Chinese novels in the world by 《亚洲周刊》 Asiaweek, Hong Kong.
Featured writer, Singapore Writers Festival.
Received Singapore Literature Prize (Chinese category) for novel 《画室》 The Studio.
Excerpts of 《 画室》 The Studio adapted into a play titled 《影子森林》 Shadows in the Jungle by Lee Chee Keng and staged at The Arts House as part of double bill Utter.
Published English poetry collection Yeng Pway Ngon Poems 2 [Personal Notes], translated by Judith Huang and Goh Beng Choo.
Featured writer, Singapore Writers Festival.
Writer-in-residence (National), Division of Chinese, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Exhibition of works, Nanyang Technological University Chinese Library, Singapore.
Received S.E.A. Write Award.
Passed away in Singapore at age 73.
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Yeng Pway Ngon with his oil painting of a popular Japanese singer at his old North Bridge Road house. 1968.
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Yeng Pway Ngon at a film forum organised by Tea House magazine, of which he was editor and publisher. c. 1970s.
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Yeng Pway Ngon and wife Goh Beng Choo at the Grassroots Book Room at Textile Centre, Singapore. 1977.
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.