Grime to Shine: The Gentrification of Singapore’s Vernacular Literature in Translation

24 Nov 2022 10.00 AM - 11.30 AM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Cheryl Julia Lee

Singapore is an economic powerhouse but how does literature figure in its creative economy? Taking a metaphorics approach to translation, this talk will attempt to shed some light on this conundrum by analysing how the nation manages literary translation, a facet of its literary landscape that had gained some traction since the later part of the 2000s. While Singapore has been upheld as the urban model to emulate by many cities in the developing world, its success was built on forcible gentrification of space and place that transforms grime to shine in record time. This is also the case with the contemporary ‘SingLit’ movement to publish local literary works, which began sometime in the 2000s as part of the official move to develop Singapore’s arts ecosystem as a means of attracting economic migrants. The metaphor of gentrification applies to the translation of vernacular literatures – Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil – into English, reproducing the Anglophone dominance of in the Singapore literary landscape.  As a study of literary history and structures, this paper will focus on the regime of gentrification that governs the literary landscape of the Southeast Asian city.



Nazry Bahrawi is Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Literature and Culture at University of Washington in Seattle. He has published on racialism, modernism, literary Islam and translation as cultural rewriting in maritime Southeast Asia in relation to other Indian Ocean cultures. Nazry is an editor-at-large at Wasafiri magazine and the essay & research editor for the Journal of Practice, Research and Tangential Activities (PR&TA). He has also translated Malay literary works to English.