Singapore Literature Prize judges resign over NLB’s book removal

By Howard Lee

A number of judges for the Singapore Literature Prize have resigned from the judging panel in response to the National Library Board’s recent removal and destruction of several children’s books.

Mr Thirunalan Sasitharan, Mr Romen Bose and Professor Robin Hemley have today retracted their participation in the Non-fiction Category of the prize, citing concerns with NLB’s removal and pulping of “And Tango Makes Three” and “The White Swan Express”, acclaimed titles which were removed following feedback from members of the public for their alleged homosexual content.

“We condemn in the strongest terms NLB’s decision to remove and destroy these books, given that it is responsible for the dissemination of information rather than its destruction,” said the judges in a media release. “The fact that the board has not even considered restricting access to the publications but has moved directly to pulping them is very disconcerting.”

The judges also indicated that NLB’s actions amounts to censorship, which they felt have “no place in any free and democratic society”.

They were also concerned with NLB’s “bigoted” stand, which “sets a very worrying precedent that it is acceptable to discriminate against anyone who may hold differing values and opinions.”

In addition, they felt that NLB’s actions was “unbecoming of an institution entrusted to protect and preserve learning and literature and to provide accessibility to information.”

Mr Sasitharan wrote in his Facebook page that, while the decision to withdraw their participation was a difficult one, they cannot in good conscience continue with the partnership.

NLB has so far not indicated if the Singapore Literature Prize (Non-Fiction Category) 2014 will continue or if other judges have been found as replacement.

The pull out by the judges was the latest in a string of public displeasure expressed by members of the public and creative community towards the NLB over the removal of the books from its shelves and their subsequent destruction.

Playwright and novelist Ovidia Yu last week resigned from the steering committee of the Singapore Writers Festival, of which NLB is a partner.

Writers Gwee Li Sui, Adrian Tan, Prem Anand and Felix Cheong also boycotted the panel discussion at the Central Public Library on Sunday as part of the Read! Singapore initiative.

Also on Sunday, a few hundred participants – made up of families, writers and civil society members – attended the Let’s Read Together event to express their concerns with the book destruction. Copies of the two withdrawn books were shared at the event.

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