Singapore Tamil Literature: Tracing the past 50 years


"The sparrow though small has all five organs", goes a Chinese adage and nothing could be truer for Tamil writing in Singapore. The journey of Tamil writing is like traveling on a moving train with its many trails and tracks over time. In this special talk, renowned author and journalist Malaan traces how it has changed over the past 50 years. In English.

Long before Tamil writing arrived at the postmodern landscape, creative migrant voices could be heard in Singapore. Since Kudirai Pandhya Lavani (1893), a folk-styled poem on horse racing in Singapore that describes the lively street scenes, Tamil writing in Singapore has been buzzing with portrayal of social actualities. With Singapore becoming a country and was in the midst of being a nation in the mid-sixties, Singapore literati became sensitive to new realities.

Being the minority among the four races in Singapore and a majority among the Indian community, the Tamils enjoy a paradoxical position, but it hardly spills over into their writing. Yet, the journey of Tamil writing in Singapore is like traveling on a moving train. In broad daylight, it presents you with a variety of landscapes, people and their postures (not unlike wandering in the MRT trains that surge through underground tunnels). It chugged off slowly after an initial dilemma, but soon found its way in the seventies, settled with its pace in the eighties, and then picked up a swift momentum from the nineties.

Join us in this special talk, as our speaker Malaan will take us on the trails and tracks of the journey of Tamil writing in Singapore, tracing its imprints over time.


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Malaan V. Narayanan is a writer by choice and a journalist by profession. Born in Srivilliputhur, Tamil Nadu, India in 1950, Maalan, as he is popularly known in the Tamil literary world, graduated from Madurai University. He later pursued his higher studies in journalism at the University of Florida in Gainesville, USA. He has 19 titles to his credit, some of which have won awards and many of them are being used in university classrooms of contemporary writing.

Maalan has been invited to many international literary festivals, including the Writers’ Week in Singapore (now known as Singapore Writers Festival), Festival of India of Malaysia, and Festival of Letters of India. He has served as the jury for the Singapore Literature Prize, Golden Point Award, and Toronto Literary Garden award. He has delivered lectures at the University of Melbourne, National University of Singapore, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and at the Media Leaders Roundtable in Boao, China.

He is currently a Lee Kong Chian Research Fellow at the National Library Board in Singapore and a member of the Tamil Advisory Board of National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi) in India. He was a member of the Editorial Board of Translations Today, a journal by the Institute of Indian Languages. He has served in the senates of Manonmaniam Sundranar University (Tirunelveli, India) and Bharathidasan University (Tiruchy, India)

His poems have found a place in the anthology of protest poetry, Voices of Emergency, compiled by Prof John Oliver Perry of Tufts University, USA and in the anthology of Tamil poetry by Sahitya Academy of India. Some of his stories were translated into English, French, Chinese, Malay and various Indian languages. They have appeared in leading English and Indian language magazines, and in the Anthology of Modern Tamil Stories published by the Writers’ Workshop in Calcutta.

He has served as the editor of leading Tamil magazines and newspapers and is a pioneer in Tamil television journalism.

Maalan has spent years studying the creative writings of the Tamil diaspora. He is widely recognised not only for his knowledge but also for his deep concern for the development of Tamil literature across the globe.


Arun Mahizhnan is the Special Research Advisor at the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. He undertakes selected special projects. His past research interests included the arts, culture and media. He is concurrently an Adjunct Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University.

Mr Arun has long been involved in the Singapore arts world. He is currently the Chairman of the Intercultural Theatre Institute, a leading tertiary training institution. He was Chairman of the Singapore Festival of Arts as well as the first ever Indian Cultural Festival. He has been a board member, committee member or advisor to various arts organisations, including the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, Singapore Tamil Writers Association, National Arts Council, National Library Board, National Book Development Council, Media Development Authority, Infocomm Development Authority and the Indian Heritage Centre.

  • The event description was updated. Diff#251766 2017-06-05 05:25:18
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Thu Jun 8, 2017
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