11 November 2022, 9:29:14 am
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Ow Yeong Wai Kit is currently a PhD candidate at the National Institute of Education, Singapore. He has taught Literature and English at the secondary school level for several years, and served as an Academy Officer at the Academy of Singapore Teachers. He holds an MA in English from University College London, and he has edited four poetry anthologies, including From Walden to Woodlands: An Anthology of Nature Poems, published by Ethos Books. His writings have also been featured in the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore (QLRS), Tiger Moth Review, and elsewhere. His research interests include Literature education and the science of learning, as well as Singapore Literature in English. In 2019, he was presented the Outstanding Youth in Education Award by the Ministry of Education.
Longings and Belongings: Explorations of Ethnicity and Identity in Wena Poon’s and Alfian Sa’at’s Short Stories
race, ethnicity, identity, postcolonialism, Alfian Sa’at, Wena Poon
Depicting complex and shifting social settings, the short stories of Singaporean writers reveal a searing honesty when grappling with identity, and particularly racialised identity, in Singapore. Their writings traverse a gamut of experiences ranging from everyday covert racism to structural inequalities, all while maintaining vocal registers infused with humour and pathos. This paper focuses on the short story collections of Alfian Sa’at and Wena Poon, including Poon’s Lions in Winter (2009) and Alfian’s Malay Sketches (2012), to answer a specific and a general question. The specific question is how Poon and Alfian, in their differing modes, respond to the socio-political circumstances that prompt their illuminating and often provocative representations of identity issues. The general question, which is considered more speculatively, is why the form of the short story lends itself as an effective medium in revealing the oft-hidden aspects of sensitivity about racialised identity. If G. K. Chesterton is right in declaring that ‘fiction is a necessity’, in serving as a vital arena of civic intelligence, short stories are an essential platform for voicing discomforting perspectives about identity and society. This paper’s contention is that stories like Alfian’s and Poon’s negotiate a diverse spectrum of ethnic identity issues which often remain undiscussed, encouraging a deeper, more mature engagement with the nuances and complexities of racialized identity in countries such as Singapore. If short stories in Singapore defamiliarize the reader while exposing the necessity of interrogating ideas about the postcolonial itself, such narratives also reveal the concomitant need to examine entrenched assumptions and perceptions about identity and ethnicity. Short stories traverse the space between racialised binaries to compel readers’ self-reflection in a succinct and memorable fashion, adeptly dramatising the tension between concealment and communication to prompt readers’ deeper reflection about racialised codes and signifiers.