The Literary Pioneer series is the SWF's signature programme which highlights the life and contributions of key literary figures in Singapore.
Through exhibitions and programmes, the series celebrates their contributions to the local literary scene and their place in the Singapore Canon.

2023 Literary Pioneer: Goh Poh Seng

The Singapore Writers Festival honours the late Goh Poh Seng as this year’s Literary Pioneer. A poet, dramatist, novelist and a visionary ahead of his time, Goh was also one of the original architects of the arts and culture scene of Singapore holding positions in the National Theatre Trust and the National Arts Council, where he lay the groundwork for the building of some of our best known national arts companies such as the Singapore National Symphony (known as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra today), the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and the Singapore Dance Company.

“Bukan mungkin lagi, mesti!”: Perintis Penulis-penulis Wanita Melayu Membalas Balik
“Not an if but a must!”: Responses from Pioneering Malay Female Writers

What does resistance woven through generations of Malay women writers look like? All across the Nusantara, women are speaking back – as they have always done.

In 19th century Riau, Raja Aisyah Sulaiman made her mark in the flourishing literary renaissance, even as Dutch colonisers were hard on the heels of her family.

2021 Literary Pioneer:
Hedwig Anuar

In this year's Festival's Literary Pioneer exhibition, we celebrate Hedwig Anuar as the first Singaporean director of the National Library. A champion of children's literature and a pioneer who built the foundations for our modern library system, Anuar continues to nurture generations of young readers by making books a part of our everyday lives.

2020 Literary Pioneers:
P Krishnan, Rama Kannabiran, Singai Ma Ilangkannan

Catch a glimpse into the lives of Singapore’s Indian community as portrayed by three seminal Tamil writers whose prolific careers span short stories, novels, poetry, and radio. From the Second World War to Singapore’s development in the 60s to 80s, uncover the anxieties and aspirations they had through the years.

2019 Literary Pioneer:
Rex Shelley

SWF honoured Rex Shelley (1930–2009) as the Literary Pioneer for 2019. Known for his seminal work, The Shrimp People, which documents the consciousness and culture of the Eurasian community in the 50s and 60s, his larger body of work provides vital creative historical documentation. In 2007, he was the Singaporean winner of the S.E.A. Write Award and till today is the only Eurasian to have won the honour.

2018 Literary Pioneer:
Yeng Pway Ngon 英培安

In 2018, SWF celebrated Yeng Pway Ngon, Cultural Medallion recipient (2003), three-time Singapore Literature Prize winner (2004, 2008, 2012), and one of Singapore’s most distinguished Chinese-language writers. Having written for more than 50 years, Yeng has made immense contributions to the Singapore Chinese literary scene. His works are deeply existential and universal, examining human concerns and failings that are timeless and relatable.

2017 Literary Pioneer:
Anne Lee Tzu Pheng

SWF 2017 Literary Pioneer series celebrated the poetry of Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, a Cultural Medallion winner and one of Singapore’s most internationally recognized poets. Although most well known for the ‘national’ poem “My Country and My People”, Lee has written on a wide array of subjects in a voice that is at once intensely personal and universal.

2016 Literary Pioneer:
Kumpulan Orang Bertujuh Temasek

SWF 2016 celebrated malay literary pioneers from Kumpulan Orang Bertujuh Teasek, 07T (Temasek Group of Seven). The group consists of Maarof Salleh, Suratman Markasan, Mohamed Yusoff Abdul Rahman, Ab Hamid Bin Besih, Sumadi Sarkawi and Eunos Asah. The seventh member, Haji Naim Daipi passed not long after the formation of the group. Consisting of national laureates and established writers, the group developed their own distinct Singaporean identity and contributed to the literary scenes in Singapore and the region by uplifting Malay literary standards and preserving the art of Malay poetry.

2015 Literary Pioneers:
Chinese Modernist Writers

From Fudiao and Wenlin in Nanyang Siang Pau, to Wenyicheng in Lianhe Zaobao, literary supplements of Chinese newspapers from the 1980s and 1990s were a public platform for Singaporean Chinese modernist writers to showcase their works and technique; as well as a space, in print, for the editors to display their styles and sensibilities.

SWF 2015 saw Chia Joo Ming 谢裕民, Low Pooi Fong 刘培芳, Chua Chim Kang 蔡深江, Ng Wai Choy 吴韦材, Quah Sy Ren 柯思仁, Toh Lam Huat 杜南发 and Tong Noong Chin 董农政 recount their journey from emerging writers to experienced editors, writers or academics. The historical context sheds light on the trends brought forth by these literary pioneers, the movements they led, and their influence on the local Chinese literary scene, as well as the outlook for the future.

2014 Literary Pioneer:
Gopal Baratham

Gopal Baratham was a neurosurgeon and author. He won the Southeast Asian Write Award in 1991, and his political thriller, A Candle or the Sun, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1992. One of the first local writers whose works have been published by British publishers, Baratham received international praise for his fiction works, which are based on Singapore society.

2013 Literary Pioneer:
G. Sarangapany கோ. சாரங்கபாணி

Thamizhavel Govindasamy Sarangapany கோ. சாரங்கபாணி, a.k.a Kosa, was a Singapore writer and publisher who was most noted as the founder of the newspaper, Tamil Murasu and a reformist who believed in establishing a progressive Indian community in Singapore and Malaysia. In 1935, he launched Tamil Murasu as a means to educate Tamil immigrants. He founded the Tamil Reform Association in 1930, and played a significant role in establishing Tamil as one of Singapore's four official languages in the 1950s.

2012 Literary Pioneer:
S.N. Masuri

Masuri S. N. is widely recognised as a titan of modern Malay poetry and doyen of the Malay literary scene of Singapore. A most prolific poet, Masuri has, over his lifetime, written over 1,000 poems. A founding member of leading Malay literary association Asas ’50, he was also the recipient of prestigious awards including the Southeast Asian Writers Award in 1990 and the Tun Seri Lanang Award in 1995.

2011 Literary Pioneer:
Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑 was a playwright who produced plays in both English and Chinese. He is considered one of the most significant dramatists in Singapore and a pioneer of Singapore theatre. Many of his works, created over four decades, have been translated into Malay, Tamil, German, Japanese and Arabic. Many, too, have been produced and performed by theatre companies in Singapore and abroad. He was awarded Cultural Mediallion in 1989.

2009 Literary Pioneer:
Edwin Thumboo

Edwin Thumboo has been a key figure in the growth of a Singapore English-language literature, making great contributions as an educator, a literary editor and a poet. Currently an Emeritus Professor at the National University of Singapore, he is best known for his nationalist-themed poetry centred on important issues of history and identity.

Thumboo was the first Singaporean to be conferred the SEA Write Award in 1979 and his legacy has been recognised through other awards and honours including three National Book Development Council awards, the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) in 2006, and the Cultural Medallion in 1980. He continues to mentor young poets and write.

2007 Literary Pioneer:
Arthur Yap

Arthur Yap is one of Singapore’s most prominent poets. He published four major collections of poetry: only lines (1971), commonplace (1977), down the line (1980), and man snake apple & other poems (1986). Of these four, only lines, down the line, and man snake apple & other poems all won the National Book Development Council award for poetry.

In 1983, he was awarded the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature in Singapore, and from 1992 to 1996, he served as a creative writing mentor for the Creative Arts Program under the aegis of the Ministry of Education.