'There are different shades of me': Poet with cerebral palsy took 18 years to write book

Shades is Esther Fam's first poetry collection. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - She has trouble holding a pen, but that has not stopped Stephanie Esther Fam, 36, from writing a book.

Shades, her first poetry collection, took her 18 years to complete - a literal labour of love for Fam, whose cerebral palsy affects her movement and balance.

It has 51 poems, many of them introspective musings drawing on nature, love and life.

"When I started, I wanted to capture freedom," says Fam, who types on a smartphone using predictive text technology.

"When I hit my 20s, it was even harder to accept this body. As I wrote, I began to love myself more and realise this is the body I need to work with."

Shades, which is published with the help of social enterprise Collective Perspectives, was launched on Jan 29 at Gateway Theatre.

Fam says: "I want this book to be a source of comfort for someone who maybe is going through a tough time."

The poem Silent Shadow, written in her mid-20s, "speaks of loving someone, not being able to have that person, yet accepting the fact that it's ok - you can still love that person from afar".

With Your Death, another poem, is dedicated to the former Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in 2017.

"When I learnt of his death, it hit me hard," Fam says. "Such a brilliant artiste was gone, and he would never know how much his writing style has influenced me. He was able to articulate his darkness, but unfortunately he took his own life."

Besides writing poetry, Fam is a freelance public speaker and theatre practitioner.

She got her first acting role in 2018, in Kaite O'Reilly's And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore 'd' Monologues, a disability-led theatre project created between Britain and Singapore.

She also wrote and performed a work in What If, an online production at the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival in 2020, as well as A Chair Is Still A Chair, which appeared in the disability-led short film Perspectives last year.

Her passion for writing, however, began much earlier, when she started reading romance novels by Judith McNaught and Johanna Lindsey.

    Besides writing poetry, Esther Fam is a freelance public speaker and theatre practitioner. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

    There were other influences, too: novelists Margaret Atwood and D. H. Lawrence as well as the rapper Eminem.

    Recently, she has been reading works by Singapore playwrights Alfian Sa'at and Chong Tze Chien.

    Singapore still has some way to go in terms of its attitude towards people with disabilities, she adds.

      "Sometimes, when people say that I am disabled, they tend to think I cannot think for myself or I cannot speak for myself."

      Her advice? "Get to know us as people. Yes, we need help, but ask what kind of help we need. If you don't ask, you won't know."

      Fam hopes people will focus on her work rather than her condition.

      "I know I am disabled, but don't make it such a big deal."

      As her book's title suggests: "There are different shades of me, different shades of people."

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