On Identity and Writing (My 2015 InCoWriMo 3 of 28)


Dear S,

Greetings from Australia. Thank you for adding me to your list of international correspondence. It is a pleasure to meet someone from Singapore, even just through letter writing.

I have been to Singapore only once, when I was little. Throughout the years since, I have read a lot of books about its history and culture, including the novels of several Singaporean Chinese and Eurasian authors. One of my good friends currently lives there.

But it is impossible to really know a country, unless your family has lived there for generations and witnessed all the sociopolitical and cultural changes. Our impression of anything and everything only derives from our concrete experience of them, including all the relevant information we have absorbed from our family, school and the media. Other than that, there is hardly anything else.

For instance, I often find my knowledge about a certain country is limited. What I know from books, movies and the Internet is definitely not enough, so I have learned to be extremely cautious when commenting on anything and everything about other people’s affairs. Obviously I make mistakes, but I get my precious lessons from them. It is amazing how patient and tolerant people can be about my ignorance. I guess a sense of awe and the wide-eyed fascinated look on my face always helps. 🙂

I have studied issues of cultural identity and how we are identified not only by the others but also by ourselves. Particularly for writers, there can be a considerable difference between how they view themselves and how their readers (and critics) think of them and their books. Now that I am writing to you, again I recall the kind of Singapore portrayed in the novels of various writers from there. I am curious to know what you think, as your views of your country will definitely be different from the common stereotypes people have about it.

Here is something I came upon last night, to share with you. I do not necessarily agree with it, but I think it is interesting to explore why such a view came into existence. It is from a fellow writer who can find neither a genre nor a place for her writings to “fit in”, i.e. getting published:

“I have…researched numerous online journals and literary magazines in the hopes of finding one (at least) in which my poetry would fit. I managed to find 5 or 6, but they were not a perfect fit as it turned out because I was rejected on the grounds of ‘not fitting in’.”

“I then turned my attention to my novel. I scrutinised 50+ small presses, and a handful of traditional publishers, in Australia, with the aim of submitting my book for consideration (when it was ready). This research presented a new problem of ‘not fitting in’. I wasn’t an Australian writer – I was displaced. I had no national identity to claim or cling to. All of the publishers and guidelines mentioned the words ‘Australian writers’ and ‘Australian-themed stories’ as a prerequisite. It wasn’t much different abroad either – a writer’s national identity is equally important as their publication history or the genre they write. When it became clear that my work would not ‘fit’ within publishers in general, I knew that it was time to think outside of the box and find a solution.”

I would like to know your view. Do you think we can eventually rise above our (national and other) identities to achieve our goal, if not in writing, then in other aspects of our life?

Yours Sincerely,



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