By Jessica Teng Sijie | Images as credited
The Yale-NUS Writers’ Centre Literary Awards is an annual award that recognises students for their outstanding work in creative writing. Awards are given across four categories of creative writing: Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Playwriting.
This year, Paul Jerusalem (Class of 2019) placed first in the Fiction and Non-fiction categories, while Chrystal Ho Jia Min (Class of 2019) won the Poetry section with her poem ‘Postcards from Alyki’. Meanwhile, Dynn Othman (Class of 2018), secured the top position in the Playwriting category.
A Literature major, Paul went on a study abroad programme at New York University in his third year, where he took classes on women of colour feminisms, critical indigenous theory, and the Filipino language. His wining works, ‘Balikbayan Box’ (Fiction) and ‘The Yerushalayim Blessing / My Parents’ Shadow’ (Non-fiction), are both about Filipino experiences in Singapore and are greatly influenced by themes relating to diaspora and queerness.
Paul’s interest in the Filipino diaspora stemmed from his realisation that there was a lack of discourse on being a non-CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian or Other) immigrant in Singapore. The vast majority of diasporic Filipino writing is set in North America, and he noted that this is understandable, given the Philippines’ colonial past. However, Paul believes that there is “something unique and specific about Filipino experiences in Singapore that is not yet being addressed”, and he hopes to fill this gap with his literary works.
In particular, ‘Balikbayan Box’ explores the figure of the overseas Filipina worker. Paul observed that the main breadwinner in many middle and working class families are women. These women often have to endure unpleasant situations in order to make enough money to remit home. However, ‘Balikbayan Box’ presents an unconventional perspective of what Paul describes as an “all-female, single-mother Filipino family” – a middle-class accountant from a working-class background, her daughter who was born and raised in Singapore, and their domestic helper, who finds ways to make ends meet while remaining firmly rooted to her home back in the Philippines.
On his passion for creative writing, Paul shared that writing has been a wonderful space for him to explore aspects of his identity, “in ways that neither traditional academic writing nor social science methods” are able to help him achieve. He credits the headway made in his literary ventures to his experiences in Yale-NUS, which provided a place for him to explore and develop his writing. “Having access to great and inspiring writing instructors as well as a community of writers, both within and outside of the classroom, is extremely beneficial for me”, he said.
Apart from the writing classes and advising sessions provided by the Yale-NUS Writers’ Centre, Paul was also selected for the Writing Fellowship Programme, a competitive summer fellowship jointly administered by the Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE) and the Writers’ Centre, and partly sponsored by the J Y Pillay Global-Asia Programme. As a Writing Fellow, Paul received support to attend intensive writing workshops at the renowned Iowa Summer Writing Festival in the US.
Paul outside the church in Iowa City where Pulitzer Prize-wining author and essayist and former instructor at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Marilynne Robinson reportedly went to church. Photo provided by Paul Jerusalem.
For Dynn Othman (Class of 2018), winner of the Playwriting category, his Yale-NUS education was similarly instrumental in helping him hone his craft. As an Arts & Humanities major, Dynn took course such as Ekphrasis: Creative Writing in Dialogue with Visual Art, Introduction to Fiction Writing and Advanced Fiction Writing. “These classes taught me what I liked and didn’t like in writing, giving me a stepping stone to developing my current style,” he reflected. During his time at Yale-NUS, Dynn was also actively involved in the Yale-NUS Filmmakers Society, and served as its President in Academic Year 2017-2018.
Dynn’s winning submission, ‘Shadows NEVER Die!’, is about issues that are close to his heart – friendships, family, love, self-image and death. “It explores broken things and the mechanisms by which people attempt to keep existing amongst the debris”, he shared. ‘Shadows NEVER Die!’ also examines the landscape of Singapore superstition. The supporting characters in the play include a pontianak (a vampiric ghost in Malay folklore) and a divine being that vaguely resembles Confucius. “The style of the piece was inspired by my rediscovery of magical realism in Cuba”, he explained.
Dynn directing actor Adria Hermione Lim on the set of Shadows NEVER Die. Photo provided by Dynn Othman.
On why he enjoys writing, Dynn describes it as a form of catharsis. “It’s a method for me to explore issues that I’m facing in real life, in a way that allows me to laugh at or see the light side of dark life experiences.”
Dynn graduated from Yale-NUS recently and he intends to pursue a career in the film and television industry. “Someday, I hope to create a collective of filmmakers and artists or be a partner in a production studio that will allow me to keep doing creative things,” he shared. Dynn has taken the first step to making his aspiration a reality by working with a group of Yale-NUS students to make ‘Shadows NEVER Die!’ into a film.