Gwee Li Sui

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Gwee Li Sui (Chinese: 魏俐瑞; pinyin: Wèi Lìruì; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Gūi Līsūi; born 22 August 1970) is a poet, a graphic artist, and a literary critic from Singapore.


Gwee began education at the now-defunct MacRitchie Primary School and then continued at Anglo-Chinese Secondary School, Anglo-Chinese Junior College, and the National University of Singapore. He graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in English literature in 1995 and was awarded the NUS Society Gold Medal for Best Student in English. His Honours thesis was on Günter Grass's novel, The Tin Drum (German: Die Blechtrommel). After completing his Masters under a research scholarship on another German writer Hermann Broch, he worked as a Senior Tutor at the NUS Department of English Language and Literature. In 1999, he was given an overseas scholarship to pursue his doctorate in eighteenth-century literature at Queen Mary, University of London. Gwee wrote his doctoral thesis on the discursive influence of Newtonianism on poetry from the English Enlightenment to early German Romanticism.[1]

Returning to lecture at NUS in 2003, Gwee worked as an assistant professor in English literature until 2009. During this time, he was a long-standing advisor to the NUS Literary Society, which has traditionally groomed some of Singapore's best-known writers. Academic topics Gwee has written on include the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, German idealism, history of science, Christian theology, German literature, and literary theory. In the field of Singaporean literature, Gwee has been writing radical articles on its poetic history up to the present and consistently challenged standard assumptions made about literary productions in Singapore. In 2010, he was invited to be a foreign writer- and critic-in-residence at the Toji Cultural Centre in South Korea.[2]

Gwee has since been teaching at various institutions and universities. A popular literary speaker at schools and festivals, he has overseen young writers in the Writers' Programme at Raffles Institution. He is sought for his opinions on literature, language, and religion and has been on the evaluation panel for several top literary awards in Singapore, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. He has edited for an online poetry journal, Softblow. Between 2008 and 2011, he hosted public interviews with Singaporean cultural figures at an independent bookstore, BooksActually. From 2013, he begins "Sing Lit 101", a lecture series for the public, at The Arts House.

Gwee served as one of the English Poetry judges for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014, when poet Grace Chia, whose poetry collection Cordelia was shortlisted, accused the Prize of sexism. Gwee responded by saying, "All entries have an equal chance of consideration for winning, and we discussed it based on that point alone, and on the strengths of the collections."[3] The other poetry judges were prominent female poet Leong Liew Geok and poet Boey Kim Cheng.[4]

In 2016, Gwee wrote a humorous editorial in The New York Times on the growth of Singlish.[5] It was responded to in a statement by the Press Secretary of the Prime Minister of Singapore.[6][7]


Gwee wrote what is arguably Singapore’s first full-length graphic novel, Myth of the Stone, published in 1993. Before this book, there existed primarily collections of graphic short stories by Singaporeans. This long out-of-print book is part-children's story and part-allegory and follows a boy's adventures in a fantastical realm of mismatched mythical creatures. A 20th-anniversary edition of Myth of the Stone, with new stories among its bonuses, was issued by Epigram Books in 2013.

Gwee produced in 1998 a well-received volume of humorous verse, Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?, which was full of linguistic play, Singlish rhymes, and jabs at social history and culture.[8] His wider poetry is known for its versatility, engaging a wide range of styles and moods, and is featured in several anthologies and literary journals. Gwee has been contributing drawings and comics to a wide range of publications too.

Gwee is the editor of one of two seminal critical volumes on Singaporean and Malaysian literature in English under the title Sharing Borders: Studies in Contemporary Singaporean-Malaysian Literature (2009). In his introduction, he exposes the problems of ideology that continue to plague the new literatures of Singapore and Malaysia ironically in the name of postcolonial studies. He is one of the editors for a bilingual collection of 100 Singaporean and Malaysian poems, From the Window of the Epoch, published in 2010.

Gwee also edited the best-selling fiction collection, Telltale: Eleven Stories in 2010. This book, which features stories by six Singaporean writers born after Singapore Independence in 1965, was nominated for the Popular Readers' Choice Award that year. It has since been adopted as a Literature O-Level text in school. In 2011, he edited an anthology of human rights-based literary works called Man/Born/Free: Writings on the Human Spirit from Singapore. The volume pays tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela and was launched in Cape Town, South Africa.

Gwee edited, with Michelle Heng, Edwin Thumboo - Time Travelling: A Select Annotated Bibliography (With Recollections and Critical Essays) in 2012. This book for researchers brings to a close his years of bibliographical and biographical work on Singapore's pioneering poet, Edwin Thumboo, for the National Library Board. Gwee is also known for his readers' introductions to books by Singaporean writers as diverse as Aaron Lee, Felix Cheong, Grace Chia, Dave Chua, and Cyril Wong.

Select bibliography[edit]

Graphic novels[edit]

  • Myth of the Stone (East Asia Book Services, 1993) ISBN 978-981-00-4837-2
  • Myth of the Stone: 20th Anniversary Edition (Epigram Books, 2013) ISBN 978-981-07-6616-0

Poetry books[edit]

Critical book[edit]


Edited volumes[edit]

  • Sharing Borders: Studies in Contemporary Singaporean-Malaysian Literature II (National Library Board and National Arts Council of Singapore, 2009) ISBN 978-981-08-3912-3 (hbk), ISBN 978-981-08-3913-0 (pbk)
  • From the Window of the Epoch: An Anthology of Malaysian and Singaporean Poems, edited with Shamsudin Othman, Mohamed Pitchay Gani bin Mohamed Abdul Aziz, Tan Chee Lay, and Seetha Lakshmi (National Institute of Translation of Malaysia and National Arts Council of Singapore, 2010) ISBN 978-983-068-480-2
  • Telltale: Eleven Stories (Ethos Books and National Arts Council of Singapore, 2010) ISBN 978-981-08-6152-0
  • Man/Born/Free: Writings on the Human Spirit from Singapore (Ethos Books, 2011) ISBN 978-981-08-8277-8
  • Edwin Thumboo - Time Travelling: A Select Annotated Bibliography (With Recollections and Critical Essays) (National Library Board of Singapore, 2012). ISBN 978-981-07-3347-6 (hbk), ISBN 978-981-07-3348-3 (pbk)
  • Singathology. Volume One, Life : 50 New Works by Celebrated Singaporean Writers (National Arts Council of Singapore and Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2015) ISBN 9789814721462
  • Singathology. Volume Two, Art : 50 New Works by Celebrated Singaporean Writers (National Arts Council and Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2015) ISBN 978-981-47-2147-9
  • Written Country: The History of Singapore through Literature (Landmark Books, 2016) ISBN 978-981-41-8966-8
  • Places: A Graphic Anthology on the East of Singapore (National Library Board of Singapore, 2016) ISBN 978-981-11-0389-6


  1. ^ Chua, Alvin. "Gwee Li Sui". Infopedia. National Library Singapore. Archived from the original on 2010-10-23.
  2. ^ "Toji Cultural Centre Residency For Writers 2012". National Arts Council Singapore. National Arts Council Singapore. Archived from the original on 2012-04-11.
  3. ^ Tan, Corrie (9 November 2014). "Poet accuses Lit Prize of gender bias". AsiaOne. Singapore Press Holdings. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  4. ^ Tan, Corrie (6 November 2014). "Gender bias allegations over Singapore Literature Prize English Poetry results". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
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  8. ^ Pang, Alvin. "Excue me, I'm tue kiasue to queue in this haiku". Verbosity.