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And the winner of the writing competition is…

And the winner of the writing competition is…

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I don’t know how the Booker Prize and Nobel Prize judging panel do it, but picking a winner is hard stuff.

By Belmont Lay

THIS year, something farcical will happen within the literary world again.

Out of thousands of books published, only one will net the Booker Prize and another will bag the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And get a load of this: At last count, in 2007, more than 50,000 works of fiction are published in the United States alone.

God knows how many more are inked throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East, prisoner-island Australia and Lord of the Rings film set, New Zealand.

So it is fairly obvious that with so many books lying around, not all will be read by the five judges on the Booker Prize’s panel or the 18-member committee at the uber-prestigious royal Swedish Academy who bestows the Nobel on only the worthy.

Even if they were all read, how does any one judge chalk against cheese against verisimilitude against literary merit?

Yet, here I am, reduced to scratching my head and rubbing my chin incessantly trying to judge between two submissions, where the winner shall be awarded the $60 grand prize for New Nation’s first-ever writing competition.

It is an unenviable task.

Conform or be whitewashed, by Syafiqah Omar is about how the politics behind graffiti is undermined and elevated at the same time.

It puts authorities in a classic Catch-22 situation: Outlawing it through hard or soft sanctions will only bring to bear the implicit message of the graffiti.

Inaction in dealing with it is to evoke the belief of silent complicity.

Therefore, I like graffiti, especially in Singapore, because it makes the authorities look stupid. I still don’t understand why the authorities cannot just allow graffiti, in this case regarding the Palestinian cause, but distance themselves from that particular political or social message the graffiti champions?

Maybe, that’s another article in its own right.

However, here’s a red flag alert: I have read extensively before about Kalle Lasn and his Adbusters campaign and Naomi Klein’s sociological anti-corporatism spiel, No Logo.

Without a doubt, I appreciate subversion.

Like “hell on earth” is by a 23-year-old Singaporean male who has Asperger’s Syndrome and is writing under the pseudonymous Aaron Kok.

The last time I read anything about Asperger’s Syndrome was in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a work of fiction by Mark Haddon.

It was hilarious in a tragic, twisted way. And of course, not very real, I must add, in case my detractors think I am into mocking disabilities.

The story’s protagonist, who has AS, introduces the reader to his emotionally dissociated mind and explores his behavioural difficulties.

But based on your effort, Aaron, you deserve to win. You’ve made a poignant point. In a non-fiction kind of way.

Your piece started a lenghty discussion that even had MP Denise Phua chipping in.

And here’s the irony: The Curious Incident was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003. That’s why I heard about it in the first place.

A note from Terence: Either writer could easily have walked away with the $60 cash prize. Syafiqah’s entry on graffiti art censorship is fresh, insightful, and pleasant to read. We are all well aware of the government’s touchy sentiments regarding sex and politics, but to hear from graffiti artists themselves about being watched by ISD agents really drives home the point. A decent piece of journalism.

Aaron’s piece on autism, at first glance, doesn’t qualify as reportage. It sounded more like a letter fit for the forum pages of a newspaper. But considering his background, circumstances, and lack of media training, the piece is an excellent effort in describing lucidly his personal experience as an autistic Singaporean.

He scored brownie points among the editors when he unexpectedly generated a furious discussion that got MP Denise Phua involved (she did not read our letter when she wrote the comment). In that sense, Aaron’s article is journalism: it educated Singaporeans on the plight of their autistic countrymen; it facilitated dialogue between different parties; it presented a point of view in a raw and honest manner. That is why he is the first winner of our writing contest.

Congratulations, Aaron. You will be hearing from us soon. Thanks also to Syafiqah for a well-written piece of journalism which sets the standard for the rest of us. Readers, do keep the entries coming for our weekly contest!