Samad Ismail

By Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman written on 2002-10-10
National Library Board Singapore

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Tan Sri Abdul Samad Ismail (b. 24 April 1925, Singapore - ) a journalist, political activist, and creative writer, known for promoting Malay nationalism. He was a founding member of the Gerakan Angkatan Muda (Geram) and of the PAP (People's Action Party). He was Chairman of the Malaysian Press Institute and was also a founding member of the National Association of Writers (PENA). For his accomplishments in the literary and journalistic field, he was awarded the title, Pejuang Sastera, meaning "literature champion" by the Malaysian Government.

Early life
From Javanese parentage, Samad Ismail was born and educated in Singapore, and was effectively bilingual in Malay and English. He completed his Senior Cambridge in 1940, just before World War II began, and launched into journalism almost immediately, starting as a cub reporter in the newly established Malay daily, Utusan Melayu.

During the Japanese Occupation, he did editorial work for the Japanese-sponsored, Berita Malai. The returning British thus had him jailed in 1946 but only briefly. After the war, he returned to the Utusan Melayu as the assistant editor and his influence helped to promote Malay nationalism. His close ties to left-wing Malay nationalists and his anticolonial stance led to a second arrest in 1951. Upon his release in 1953, he returned to his job at the Utusan Melayu and became a founding member of the People's Action Party along with Lee Kuan Yew.

However, disagreements with both Lee Kuan Yew and with the Utusan Melayu saw him leaving for Kuala Lumpur in 1959. There, he would head the Berita Harian and later the New Straits Times. He remained a strong advocate of the Malay language and culture, and continued to explore the complex dimensions of race and politics in Malaysia. He expressed some of these thoughts through his Malay novels which he began writing in the early 1960s. In 1976, he was again arrested under the Malaysian Internal Security Act and was not released until 1981.  Upon his release, he returned to the New Straits Times.

1941 - 1945 : Assistant Editor, Berita Malai during the Japanese Occupation.
1945 : Editor, Berita Malai newspaper at the age of 21.
1955 : Represented the PAP at the Bandung Conference.
1959 : Editor, Berita Harian when it moved to Kuala Lumpur.
1958 - 1959 : Chairman, UMNO, Singapore.
1974 : Managing Editor and Deputy Editor-in-Chief, The New Straits Times group.
1981 : Editorial Advisor, The New Straits Times group.
1988 : Retired from journalism.

1963 : Kail Panjang Sejengkal.
1966 : Patah Sayap Terban Jua.
1967 : Tembok Tidak Tinggi; Orang Jauh.
1968 : Menduga Lautan Dalam; Menimba Yang Jernih.
1969 : Detik-detik Cemas; Orang Lama.
1970 : Hussein Zet.
1975 : Sutinah.
1995 : Hud.

Short-story collections
1959 : Temasya Tinta. 
1994Ingin jadi pujangga : kumpulan cerpen 1944 -1991.

1994 : Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, being recognised "for applying his intellect and journalistic skills to champion national independence, cultural revival, and democratic nation-building in Malaysia".
1992 : Knighted by Malaysia's Sultan

Wife: Puan Sri Hamidah Hassan (deceased).

Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman

Cheah, B. K. (Ed.). (2000) A. Samad Ismail: Journalism & politics. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications.
(Call no.: SING 070.92 ABD)

Thumboo, E. et. al. (Eds.). ( 1993). The Fiction of Singapore (p. 1241). Singapore: Unipress.
(Call no.: SING 823.008 FIC)

Measure of a man named Samad Ismail. (2000, July 21). New Straits Times, p. 12.

Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. (n.d.). The 1994 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts. Retrieved January 20, 2005, from

Further Readings
A. Samad Ismail. (1993). Memoir A. Samad Ismail di Singapura. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
(Call no.: SING Malay 899.23050092 ABD) 

Othman Haji Zainuddin. (1991). A. Samad Ismail. [Videotape]. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
(Call no. : RSEA Malay 899.23050092 ABD) 

The information in this article is valid as at 1998 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

Political activists--Singapore
Language and literature>>Journalism
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Malaysian literature