About Penang Book Prize

Inaugurated in 2017, the Penang Book Prize – the only one of its kind in Malaysia – celebrate exceptional works of non-fiction which have Malaysia as its focal point. The book prize aims to reward works that illuminate and illustrate the Malaysian experience, and exhibit research profundity, and excellence in narration.

Awarded annually by Penang Monthly, the book prize jury, chaired by Managing Editor and Executive Director of Penang Institute, Dato' Dr Ooi Kee Beng, consists of luminaries in the field, such as writer and editor Gareth Richards (2017 & 2019), Malaysian laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh (2017), senior lecturers in English Literature (2018), and historical and cultural stalwarts from within Malaysia and without (2019). The winner also receives RM5,000 in prize money.

“I’m hopeful that in time the book prize will come to symbolise the importance of Penang as an intellectual hub, and help rejuvenate a strong sense of pride and confidence in Penang’s cultural depth. As far as I know, Penang Institute is the only think tank around that runs a city magazine. I find that an effective way of avoiding the ivory-tower effect of academic work. As with all our other activities and publications, we work towards, for the want of a better term, a Penang Renaissance,” says Dato' Ooi.

The Penang Book Prize was previously known as the Penang Monthly Book Prize. The name change in 2019 reflected the category change from fiction to non-fiction.

For more information, go to Submissions, or explore the Book Prize over the years.


Winner: Bernice Chauly for Once We Were There
Published by Epigram Books

Journalist Delonix Regia chances upon the cultured and irresistible Omar amid the upheaval of the Reformasi movement in Kuala Lumpur. As the city roils around them, they find solace in love, marriage, and then parenthood. But when their two-year-old daughter Alba is kidnapped, Del must confront the terrible secret of a city where babies are sold and girls trafficked. By turns heart-breaking and suspenseful, Once We Were There is a debut novel of profound insight. It is Bernice Chauly at her very best.


Winner: Gabija Grušaitė for Cold East
Published by Clarity Publishing

Twenty-something author and minor media influencer Stasys Šaltoka – or Stanley Colder to his adoring IG followers – has hit an existential wall. Abandoning his clichéd and stifling New York city life, he buys a one-way ticket to South-east Asia in search of life-changing experiences. A chance meeting with an enigmatic Russian leads Stasys to a documentary project – the murder of a mysterious Mongolian model that implicates a prime minister and his jewel-hoarding wife. Unravelling the truth takes Stasys deeper through the murky swamp of extreme corruption, death, Islamophobia and media manipulation.


Winner: Philip Bowring for Empire of the Winds: The Global Role of Asia's Great Archipelago
Published by I.B. Tauris

Nusantaria – often referred to as "Maritime South-east Asia" – is the world's largest archipelago and has, for centuries, been a vital cultural and trading hub. These have long been primarily the domain of the Austronesian-speaking peoples and their seafaring traditions. The surrounding waters have always been uniquely important as a corridor connecting East Asia to India, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. In this book, Philip Bowring provides a history of the world's largest and most important archipelago and its adjacent coasts. He tells the story of the peoples and lands located at this crucial maritime and cultural crossroads, from its birth following the last Ice Age to today.