Considered the doyenne of Singapore literature, Catherine Lim is the prolific author of over 19 books written across several genres, including short story collections, novels, poems and non-fiction. Her works are known to revolve around Chinese culture, more specifically the age-old clash between traditional beliefs and modernity. This juxtaposition would often form the basis of the struggles faced by her main characters, who are more often than not spirited female protagonists.
Born in Penang, Malaysia as the eighth child in a family of 14, Catherine graduated from the University of Malaya with a Bachelors in English, before obtaining her PhD in Applied Linguistics from the National University of Singapore and graduating from both Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley as part of the Fulbright programme. After a few years of teaching in schools and junior colleges, Catherine became a project director with the Ministry of Education. She went on to become a specialist lecturer at the Regional Language Centre (RELC) till 1992, when she decided to pursue writing full-time.
Catherine is best known for her short stories, having authored 13 short story collections throughout her literary career. Her debut collection, Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore (1978), became an instant bestseller and was instrumental in propelling her into the spotlight of Singapore’s literary scene. She received similar success with her next short story collection, Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories (1980), which was awarded the Commendation award for Fiction by the National Book Council Development in 1982. She would receive this award twice more for two other short story collections later on, The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream (1987) and O Singapore!: Stories in Celebration (1989). Her other works include six novels, two poems, two non-fiction titles and a play.
In 1998, she was awarded the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award and a year later, received the prestigious Southeast Asia Write Award in 1999. For her contributions in education and literature, she was accorded the Honorary Doctorate in Literature by Murdoch University and the Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et Des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the Ministry for Culture and Communication in France. She was appointed as the 2005 Hans Christian Anderson Ambassador by the Hans Christian Anderson Foundation in Copenhagen and in 2014, the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations inducted her into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame.
Since their publication, Catherine’s first two short story collections have been included as examination texts for the GCE O Level Literature Examinations. In 2000, her e-novella, Leap of Love, was published online by LycosAsia, before being picked up for print publication in 2003 by Horizon Books. This marked a precedent for Catherine, as she became the first Singaporean author to have a serialised e-novella. Leap of Love was later adapted for film by Raintree Pictures and released in 2008 under the title, The Leap Years.
In 2015, The Business Times included Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore in its list of Top 10 English Singapore Books from 1965 - 2015 alongside influential authors like Arthur Yap and Daren Shiau. In the same year, The Straits Times featured the book as one of its 10 classic Singapore books.
An ardent feminist, Catherine is also considered an outspoken social and political commentator, having made radio and television appearances in Singapore, Australia and Europe. In addition to having contributed commentaries to international dailies, she has also given talks at seminars and arts/writing festivals, both local and abroad. She continues to write and be active in Singapore’s literary scene.
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