“Giving takes many forms and each comes with its own satisfaction,” says National University of Singapore (NUS) Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo, an internationally renowned poet. Prof Thumboo (’56, University of Malaya), who is one of the pioneers of English Literature in Singapore, gives in many ways to the University, with which he has had a relationship spanning more than six decades – as student, professor at the Department of English Language and Literature and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, among others. Over the many years, he has continued to contribute regularly to support various initiatives across the University – from bursaries and scholarships to professorships, book prizes and more – and recently, he is helping to set up Literary Prizes at NUS University Town’s Angsana College where he is the first Artist-in-Residence.
“The act of giving benefits the giver in special ways, especially when done quietly,” he says. “Giving to students and younger colleagues is the most satisfying as you can see the gift multiplying itself. When someone you have given to, gives to another, you initiate a process that is ongoing; engendering a spirit that develops its own dynamics.”
“His own giving spirit, taken in the larger sense, he traces to his teachers, like Shamus Fraser, Roy Jansen, KC Owen and Goh Sin Tub, who also helped him develop his values and perspectives, rubbing off the rough edges and awakening in him a sense of graciousness and sportsmanship. “Every teacher gives you something,” he says.
“As Artist-in-Residence at Angsana College, Prof Thumboo mentors a group of young poets and is involved in helping to set up various activities that, he says, “develop a sense of creativity, doing and making in the College”. His sessions bring together poetry and verbal tact, teaching students how to use, manage and manipulate language so that it is at once “illuminating, strong and neutral in tone”. Perfect for University Town, which places particular emphasis on nurturing students’ critical thinking and effective writing skills.
“Dr Greg Petersen, who is the Coordinator of the Artist-in-Residence programme, says, “This Programme provides for distinguished artists to share their expertise and enrich Angsana’s residential life and learning through their creative work, through interaction with members of the College community, and as part of its outreach to other communities. We in Angsana feel the arts play a pivotal role in every community.”
“The Artist-in-Residence mentors students, conducts workshops and public events for the University community and beyond and may also participate in the formal and informal curriculum of the College. “We would like all Angsana College students to have the opportunity to encounter four different art forms – literary arts, visual arts, performing arts and musical arts – over two years,” says Dr Petersen, who is also Assistant Professor at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.
“The Literary Prize, which Prof Thumboo has set up, will recognise and encourage literary talent. “Prof Thumboo has been a champion of thinking of ways to get students thinking about the arts and taking it seriously,” says Dr Petersen.
“So, does one generation have an obligation to give to the next? Prof Thumboo says, “The word ‘obligation’ works against the spirit of pure giving. But I personally feel that there is an obligation to pass on knowledge, values and even money.” He mentions his colleague and peer Professor Saw Swee Hock, who has “ennobled the act of giving” with his generous gifts to NUS.
“Prof Thumboo adds, “I would say that it is better to give when you can rather than when you must. When you give, your expectations go with the gift.”
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