The National Book Development Council of Singapore has been energetically promoting last year’s winners and shortlistees of the Singapore Literature Prize. They have organized public panels and school events at which writers could speak of their work. By their initiative and effort, they are helping to advance the cause of local literature among the audience most of us writers would love most to reach.
When I agreed to participate in one such event on my visit to Singapore, I did not know that the panel would take place in the National Library. Many of you will remember that the National Library disgraced itself last year by removing three children’s books from the shelves and threatening to pulp them because they depict non-traditional (i.e. queer) families. Public furor, including a read-in, caused them to backtrack on their decision, whereupon they returned the books, not to the children’s, but to the adult section of the lending library. With a few other dissenting voices, I rejected this compromise, and I still do. The children’s books belong to the children’s section of the library. To shelf them elsewhere is to stigmatize the families depicted in the books. So with regret, I decided not to participate in the panel, even though the National Library is only providing the venue. I gave my reasons in the email below:
Dear XXX and XXX,
Thanks very much for organizing the panel. I agreed to participate, not knowing the event will be held in conjunction with the National Library. Since the National Library removed the children's books And Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express from its children's section last year, and then made the cowardly compromise of returning the books but shelving them in the adult section, I have decided not to participate in any National Library event. I do not wish to help promote its image as a champion of literature when it is nothing of the sort. My sincere apologies for missing what looks to be a stimulating discussion.
I am posting this in order to stand with those who still object to the literary segregation practiced by the National Library of Singapore. Our memory is long, and writing and documentation extend it further. I am posting this now because it is the Lunar New Year, a time for families to get together, make restitution for wrongs done, and practice forgiveness and reconciliation. I call on the National Library to make things right by returning And Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express to where they belong, in the hands of children.