Singapore Writers Festival 2019: New director, headlining authors, key programmes, and other highlights you need to know
Play on words
Organised by the National Arts Council, Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) returns this November with a brand new director, acclaimed poet Pooja Nansi. The festival will feature a diverse roster of 250 international and local authors in more than 250 programmes across its 10-day duration in the Civic District.
A Language of Our Own
This year's theme, "A Language of Our Own", explores different types of languages beyond traditional written text. "I landed on this theme largely as a nod to the festival's last three themes, which were in all our different national languages. We were interested in examining how our languages work above and beyond text, which includes sign language, memes, and GIFs", said festival director Pooja Nansi.
Festival-goers will get the opportunity to discuss and explore pertinent contemporary issues such as feminism and cultural identity. From riveting dialogues with key authors to experiential late-night events, there's something for everyone to enjoy. We've rounded up the most unmissable programmes based on familiar personality types in our ultimate guide below.
Avid readers and bookworms
Internationally renowned authors headlining the festival this year include The New York Times best-selling author of Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, Marlon James as well as Korean-American author of hit novel Pachinko, Min Jin Lee as well as respected travel writer Pico Iyer.
Festival-goers will get the opportunity to interact with these literary heavyweights through two new formats: Roxane will be speaking about her work as part of the 'In A Tiny Room' series in the intimacy of the Old Man Bar at Keong Saik Road, while Marlon will be delivering the 'Festival Prologue' on the power of language and stories.
Those who aspire to be 'woke'
Curated by a panel of youth, an all-new festival track, SWF Youth Fringe will touch on a variety of trending topics including the fascinating relationship between K-drama and poetry as well as the semiotics of memes. Adults are more than welcomed to attend these sessions too.
Inclusivity is one of the major themes in the festival, and UK-based award-winning writer and disability activist Kaite O'Reilly will be leading that conversation in two fascinating sessions. Her scripted lecture-performance 'The 'd' Monologues' and writing workshop 'You say 'Inclusive', I say 'Subversive'' will challenge preconceptions of disability in society and literature respectively.
Race has always been a hot-button issue in Singapore. In 'Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone)', Canadian thought leader on this subject, Kamal Al-Solaylee, will be presenting his seminal work that he conducted over two years in 10 countries such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
Not everything on the programme is completely serious though. If you're in the mood for something a little more upbeat, check out 'Perang Spontan: A Dikir Barat X Rap Battle'. Some of the country's best Malay rappers will be freestyling and spitting rhymes against a crew of Dikir Barat performers in a promising night of flow, rhythm, and movement.
The festival wouldn't be complete without an 'Epic Spoken Word Night'. This time around, twice-winning Singapore National Poetry Slam champion Shivram Gopinath and multidisciplinay artist Norah Lea will be joined by queer American poet Danez Smith, the current Young People's Laureate for London Theresa Lola, and British poet Jacob Sam-La Rose. Expect the evening to be an unflinching portrait of their multi-faceted lives.
If you've got a way with words, try your hand at a writing workshop. Singaporean researcher Kathleen Ditzig and winner of the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize Samuel Lee will be guiding participants who are interested in creating an original piece of text in response to a specific artwork or ongoing exhibition in Singapore.
The words of Singaporean literary icon Rex Shelley's 1991 seminal novel The Shrimp People come alive in 'A Bigger Party Than Expected'. The Arts House will be transformed into a lively Eurasian wedding party, complete with traditional food and drink as well as performances and interactive installations by artists including Australian theatremaker Edith Podesta, playwright collective Main Tulis Group, poet Cyril Wong, musician Bani Haykal, actor Irfan Kasban, and classical Indian dancer Ruby Jayaseelan. Your iPhone's three cameras would certainly come in handy for this one.
Canada — a country that conjures up images of pristine alpine forests and inclusive notions of multiculturism — is this year's Country Focus with special appearances by ten Canadian writers. In 'From Canada to Singapore', Canadian writers such as the 2018 winner of the Vancouver Book Award Chelene Knight will be reading their work alongside Singaporean wordsmiths like novelist Imran Hashim.
Haven't found what you're looking for yet? Head over to SWF's website to find out more. Singapore Writers Festival will run from 1 to 10 November 2019. Festival passes and tickets can be purchased via SISTIC now.
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