Anne Lee Tzu Pheng
Award-winning and internationally acclaimed poet
Singapore's foremost female poet Anne Lee Tzu Pheng has five volumes of poetry to her name, three of which were winners of the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Award. Contemplative and lyrical, Tzu Pheng’s work grapples with themes of identity and progress, and most recently, her Catholic faith.
Tzu Pheng was educated at Raffles Girls' School. She obtained a first class honours degree in English at University of Singapore in 1968, and completed her PhD in 1972. By then she was on the faculty of the English Language and Literature department at the university, which was later renamed National University of Singapore (NUS).
Tzu Pheng penned her first volume, Prospect of a Drowning, when she was still an undergraduate, but she did not have it published until 1980. That, and her subsequent works Against the Next Wave (1988) and The Brink of an Amen (1991), won NBDCS Awards. Her other works are Lambada by Galilee & Other Surprises (1997), Sing a Song of Mankind (2012) and Catching Connections (2012).
In 1985 Tzu Pheng won the Cultural Medallion (Literature), Singapore’s highest award for excellence in the arts, and in 1987 was named Singapore's winner of the prestigious S.E.A. (Southeast Asia) WRITE award. In 1996 she was the recipient of the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award for her contribution to the development of Singapore literature.
Tzu Pheng’s poetry has earned her international recognition as well. In 1995 she was one of six writers from the Asia-Pacific region conferred the Gabriela Mistral Award by the Government of Chile. The one-time award was given to fifty outstanding writers worldwide and Tzu Pheng was the only Singaporean to receive it.
Early on, her work attracted controversy. Often seen as one of a generation of "nation-building" English writers in Singapore, her 1976 poem, "My Country, My People", was banned from the airwaves by the government for reasons that were never clarified. Yet two decades later, Tzu Pheng wrote the National Day Ceremony Song, "My People, My Home", which has been performed in schools across Singapore every National Day since 1998.
Some of her poems have been set to music for choral performance. Her latest poetry collection, Catching Connections (2012), strongly references the Catholic religion she adopted in 1989. Tzu Pheng has now added the prefix Anne to her name, in recognition of this faith. She is also a professed member of the Order of Secular Franciscans.
Over the years, Tzu Pheng has been on the boards of several arts committees, and was a member on national committees evaluating literacy and reading. She has written a book for parents on encouraging children’s reading, called Growing Readers (1987). Since the 1990s, Tzu Pheng has been well regarded as a mentor of younger writers, some of whom have credited her with influencing their commitment to becoming the writers they are today. She had taught at NUS for over three decades by the time she retired as associate professor.
"Comedy and tragedy are two faces of the same entity. Just look at a human being."