Mertonian Theophilus Kwek to be awarded a Swedish literary prize for East Asian poets

Theophilus Kwek (2013) has been named the 2023 recipient of the Cikada Prize, an award conferred by the Swedish Institute to an East Asian poet.

Theophilus is the first Singaporean and the youngest writer to win the prestigious prize since its inception in 2004. He will receive his prize in a ceremony next year.

The Cikada Prize was established to commemorate the birth centennial of Swedish Nobel literature laureate Harry Martinson and spotlights Asian poets on a global stage.

Cikada Prize jury chair Anna Gustafsson Chen writes that Theophilus is being recognised ‘for a poetry that is both outward-looking and locally rooted, with a combination of lyrical precision and unfailing social commitment that places it firmly in the centre of history as well as our present age’.

Theophilus is a former President of the Oxford University Poetry Society, and has also served as co-editor of Oxford Poetry and The Kindling. Two of his previous collections of poetry were shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. He has also edited several volumes of Singaporean writing. His most recent collection of poems, Moving House, was published by Carcanet Press, UK, in 2020.

On being named the 2023 recipient of the Cikada prize, Theophilus said:

 ‘Suffice to say that I was incredibly humbled to hear about the Prize, especially given the eminent list of former recipients. In many ways, I feel that I found my writing "voice" during my time at Merton -- not only in terms of finding a creative community at the university and beyond, but also in developing my social commitments and a sense of the world. I have plenty of faith that Merton will continue to provide a home for other voices to thrive and be heard.’

Theophilus read History and Politics at Merton and completed a Master’s degree in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the Refugee Studies Centre. He has collaborated on a pamphlet to raise funds for Oxford-based charity Refugee Resource, and worked on a performance in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis.

In Singapore, Theophilus has supported initiatives for and by migrant writers including the Migrant Cultural Show and Migrant Writers of Singapore. He is currently working on poems that focus on themes of displacement.