Yeng Pway Ngon is a prolific poet, novelist, playwright and critic in Singapore’s Chinese literary scene. Yeng’s works have been noted for their examination of the human condition and to date, he has published 26 volumes of poetry, fiction, plays and literary criticism.
Yeng graduated from Ngee Ann College with a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Literature in 1969. During his studies, he began cultivating his own modernist poetic voice and style after having been influenced by modern Taiwanese poets of the 60s such as Ya Xian and Yang Mu. In 1968, he published his first poetry collection, Shou Shu Tai Shang (On the Operating Table).
Throughout his literary career, Yeng has published and edited three literary journals, Teahouse (1968), Vanguard Monthly (1969) and Encounter (1990). In 1974, after the publication of a second poetry collection and a collection of essays, he opened Vanguard Book Room and sold it in 1976. In the same year he went on to open another bookshop, Grassroots Book Room, which stocked limited edition and specialist titles on history, philosophy and literature. However, Yeng decided to close this bookshop in 1980 after his release from a four month detainment under the Internal Security Act in1977.
Between 1978 to 1983, Yeng worked as a newspaper columnist, writing a social-commentary column for Nanyang Siang Pau. When Nanyang Siang Pau merged with Sin Chew Jit Poh to become what is known today as Lianhe Zaobao, he continued contributing to the new publication’s social-commentary column. In 1994, he travelled to Hong Kong and spent a year there as a freelance columnist writing for United Daily News, Ming Pao, Sing Tao Daily and Sing Tao Evening News.
By the 1980s, Yeng had become a full-time writer, and began writing radio plays for Rediffusion and publishing his own works comprising of essays, short stories and novels. In 1987, he published his first novel, Yi Ge Xiang Wo Zhe Yang De Nan Ren (A Man Like Me), which won the National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award in 1988. He would continue to receive accolades for his works, with three of his later novels, Sao Dong (Unrest), Wo Yu Wo Zi Ji De Er San Shi (Trivialities About Me and Myself) and Hua Shi (The Studio) all receiving the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004, 2008 and 2012 respectively. The narratives in Yeng’s novels often mirror his own personal experiences, with Sao Dong (Unrest) being based on Yeng’s detainment and Hua Shi (The Studio) being written as a result of his battle with cancer. Wo Yu Wo Zi Ji De Er San Shi (Trivialities About Me and Myself) and Hua Shi (The Studio) have since been selected by Asia Weekly for its prestigious annual list of “Top 10 Best Chinese Novels”, alongside other prolific writers like Nobel laureate Mo Yan and Yan Geling.
Yeng was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Literature in 2003 and in 2013, he received the prestigious Southeast Asian Writers Award.
In 2000, Yeng was invited to be a fellow at the Taipei International Writers-in-Residence programme by the Culture Bureau of Taipei, making him the first Singaporean to be selected for the programme. In 2013, he achieved a similar first when he was invited to participate in Nanyang Technological University’s Chinese department’s writer-in-residence scheme, where he had the opportunity to teach classes on Chinese literature and novel writing.
To date, Yeng’s works have been translated into English, Malay, and Italian. Several of his plays have also been performed, including Misdelivered Mail by the Singapore Art Theatre in 1993, Love Story, Man and Bronze Statue by Singapore Broadway Playhouse in 2003, The Studio in 2012 and most recently, Art Studio in 2017, which was adapted by Nine Years Theatre for that year’s Singapore International Festival of the Arts.
Yeng has been diagnosed with cancer twice, the first in 2008 and later on in 2017. Despite his diagnosis, he plans to continue writing, stating in an interview with The Straits Times that what keeps him going is “his belief in writing for “ a reader” and “writing with freedom of the mind”.
Author Biography © Yeng Pway Ngon. Author Photo © National Arts Council. All rights reserved.