Junot Diaz, Simon Armitage, Li-Young added to Singapore Writers Festival line-up as tickets go on sale

Writer Junot Diaz will be one of the guests at this year's Singapore Writers Festival. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Writer Junot Diaz will be one of the guests at this year's Singapore Writers Festival. PHOTO: NYTIMES

SINGAPORE - Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz, American poet Li-Young Lee and British poet Simon Armitage are among the big international names who will be part of the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) from Nov 3 to 12.

The full line-up of the festival, which is in its 20th edition, was revealed on Tuesday (Sept 5) at a launch at the National Gallery.

More than 300 authors, including about 65 international names and 240 Singapore-based writers, will take part in the festival's more than 290 programmes.

Diaz, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, Armitage and Lee will join previously announced headliner Ken Liu, an American science-fiction and fantasy writer, in delivering some of the SWF lectures.

Also speaking at the festival are award-winning Israeli author Etgar Keret; young adult author Jay Asher, who wrote 13 Reasons Why, a novel about teenage bullying that has since been made into a Netflix series; Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Rae Armantrout; and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ian Johnson, who won for his coverage of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

The festival will be also highlighting the rising genre of speculative fiction through writers such as Aliette de Bodard, the French author behind the Obsidian And Blood trilogy, and American graphic novelist Marjorie Liu.

Singaporean poet Anne Lee Tzu Pheng will be the literary pioneer featured at this year's festival, something which the 71-year-old says has been both unexpected and somewhat overwhelming. "It's incredible the way time overtakes you, and suddenly you're a pioneer."

She will be giving a lecture about her more than 30 years of experience writing poetry. Of the festival marking its 20th anniversary, she says: "The audience for it has really grown. I like the way it is now a cross-fertilisation, a showcase of not just writing but also art and other media."

The festival was started in 1986 as a biennial event and became an annual event in 2011.

Visual artist and photographer Alecia Neo was commissioned to produce a work in response to the festival's theme of Aram, which means "goodness" or "doing good".

The word makes a notable appearance in Thirukkural, an ancient text about ethics and everyday virtue that is widely revered as the most influential literary work in the language.

Neo, 31, produced a video and series of images inspired by the stories of people she had met, such as a Bangladeshi migrant worker caught up in a complex employment dispute, and a woman who became the caretaker for her mentally ill son.

Her work explores the concept of homeostasis, or maintaining equilibrium. "There is a spiritual aspect to 'aram'. I felt it was about the idea of how people are connected to something bigger than themselves, how we must regulate all these diverse elements and still achieve equilibrium."

The festival also seeks to get people on their feet in their appreciation of literature, with events such as Eye/Feel/Write II, an architectural tour of the National Gallery interspersed with readings of works by 12 local writers, inspired by places in the museum.

The tour's editor, poet Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde, 46, says: "There's a beautiful energy that comes from these ekphrastic texts, from the way each poet or fiction writer approaches these different spaces with their particular, dignified gaze."


WHERE: The Civic District

WHEN: Nov 3 to 12

ADMISSION: $20 for early-bird festival passes from Sept 5 to 30; $25 for regular festival passes; separately ticketed events are $10 to $60, via Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

INFO: Go to www.singaporewritersfestival.com and www.facebook.com/sgwritersfest