Indian dentist wins top literary award in Singapore

Vrushali Junnarkar, an Indian national living in Singapore, has won the 2023 Epigram Books Fiction Prize for her debut novel on a group of Indian women learning to swim in a condominium.

Titled, The Campbell Gardens Ladies' Swimming Class, Junnarkar's unpublished work beat 56 other submissions from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines, The Straits Times reported.

The panel of judges, which included top Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, selected the winner from among four finalists, whittled down from a larger pool by a group of readers.

"The verdict was not unanimous but neither was it highly contentious. We all valued the achievements of the novels a great deal. We saw the strengths and weaknesses from different vantage points. That's the great thing about literature," National University of Singapore Press director Peter Schoppert, who was one of the judges, told The Straits Times.

"The anxieties faced by these immigrant women, residents and their domestic workers (are) very much part of the story, balancing cultures and identities that are conveyed with humour and with a gently satirical stance," Schoppert said, quoting the verdict of another judge on Junnarkar's book.

Junnarkar, who is a dentist by profession, was not in Singapore to receive the award. Her manuscript will be published in the second half of 2023 by Epigram Books.

Presently in its eighth edition, the Epigram Books Fiction Prize has seen over 50 manuscripts go to print since its inception in 2015.

Some of its winners, including Jeremy Tiang and Balli Kaur Jaswal, have gone on to be picked up by international publishers.

The award was initiated to promote contemporary creative writing and reward excellence in Singapore literature. Since 2020, it has been open to writers from Southeast Asia.


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