LIFE POWER LIST 2015

Widening reach of writers fest

18) YEOW KAI CHAI, 47, Singapore Writers Festival director

This year's Singapore Writers Festival, which broadened its line-up to include music, drama, dance and art events, proved a hit, drawing an audience of about 19,700, with ticket sales growing by 30 per cent compared with those last year.

Its director Yeow Kai Chai, a poet and former Straits Times journalist, debuts on the Power List for giving the literary festival a multi-faceted direction while retaining its mass appeal.

He took over the gig from the National Arts Council's deputy chief executive Paul Tan, who had run the festival for four years.

Yeow says: "Based on the feedback, people were happy. They liked the vibe, they liked the audience's questions and the writers enjoyed themselves. Those are the barometers we use to judge the festival's success, more than mere attendance figures."

The bachelor envisions the festival as a place "to discover writers and writing from South-east Asia and Asia".

This year, the festival featured a record 242 Singaporean voices across the arts - from the music, theatre, literary, dance and visual arts sectors to educators, critics, journalists and policymakers.

It also brought in international heavyweights such as New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, 2012 Man Booker nominee Deborah Levy, Indonesian critic and poet Goenawan Mohamad and Harvard professor Michael Sandel.

Sandel's lecture on morality and market forces, in particular, drew more than 1,300 people, making it the best-attended event in the festival's history.

The overnight showcase of music, drama and visual arts at The Arts House, What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, sold out 420 tickets that cost $50 each.

The festival's success was perhaps best seen in the full-house finale - the closing debate, which included speakers such as poet Deborah Emmanuel, actor Hirzi Zulkiflie and drama lecturer Oniatta Effendi, among others, saw queues snaking from The Arts House to the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Yeow says of the sold-out ticketed events: " People are willing to pay for value. It raises the game for the writers. The writers feel that they have to improve the way they talk to audiences, the way they engage them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Widening reach of writers fest'. Print Edition | Subscribe