Love letters, chatbots and books-in-capsules to get Singaporeans to Buy Sing Lit

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BooksActually co-founder and #BuySingLit Working Committee co-chair Kenny Leck speaking at the media launch of the #BuySingLit 2018 campaign. PHOTO: COURTESY OF #BUYSINGLIT

SINGAPORE - You've got mail - from the writer in your neighbourhood.

Residents across Singapore may get a surprise letter from a local writer in the post next month, as part of a campaign to boost interest in home-grown literature.

The #BuySingLit movement, which was first launched last year, returns in its second edition from March 9 to 11, with more than 50 programmes islandwide.

The industry-led initiative, which involves writers, bookstores, publishers and distributors, is trying out new methods of getting Singaporeans to read and buy local.

These include Chatbooks, in which users can chat with a book, so to speak, on the Facebook Messenger app. These are actually chatbots based on works by authors such as Tania de Rozario, Nuraliah Norasid and Farihan Bahron.

Harking back to childhood memories is Tikam Books, an initiative in which gachapon machines will be installed at local bookstores, dispensing $2 plastic capsules that, instead of toys, will contain a mini-booklet, a limited-edition book cover pin and a $10 #BuySingLit book voucher.

For the Love Letters To Singapore project by Ethos Books and Singapore Post, 240,000 copies of letters by 12 writers - including poet Cyril Wong and last year's Golden Point Award winner Nur-El-Hudaa Jaffar - will be delivered to mailboxes around the island.

The writers penned the letters as odes to their own neighbourhoods. Wong, for instance, wrote about Clementi Avenue 2, where he lives, while Nur-El-Hudaa wrote about food and kite-flying in her childhood haunt of Macpherson.

Over at Bras Basah Complex, four outdoor art installations will pay homage to the building's history as the "city of books", given the many bookstores it has housed over the years.

Curated by visual arts organisations Oh! Open House, three artists will create artworks in tribute to Bras Basah staples Basheer Graphic Books, Maha Yuyi and Evernew Book Store, as well as a spiral staircase playground in Popular Bookstore inspired by local children's series Sherlock Sam by A.J. Low.

Artist Kelly Lim, also known as Kelly Limerick, will be knitting her work out of yarn she has spun from shreds of the red and green Chinese tearable calendars sold at Maha Yuyi. "There's something ethereal about making an art piece out of them ," says the 26-year-old. "It reminds me of the stories you read when you're young and don't think about, but they stay at the back of your mind until somebody reminds you of them."

Last year's campaign drew more than 23,000 people to its 40 or so events, with participating bookstores reporting an increase in sales of about 24 per cent that weekend.

This year's movement, supported by the National Arts Council with the National Book Development Council of Singapore as secretariat, will run in conjunction with the inaugural Textures festival at the Arts House.

Textures will feature more than 30 literary events, from an exhibition on out-of-print titles to readings of the works of Singapore's first Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam.

#BuySingLit co-chair Kenny Leck says that having worked through teething problems in its first year - such as the programme partners juggling organisational duties with their day jobs - he hopes the more focused events this year will help the movement gain more traction with the public.

"We don't just want to reach out to people who can name a local writer, but also to people who may not even know local writers exist," says Mr Leck, 39, who runs independent bookstore BooksActually and publisher Math Paper Press.

"We've seen how big the Singapore Writers Festival can be, and if #BuySingLit can do the same, why not?"

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