More mother tongue programmes, local authors at NLB Read! Fest

Guests at the Read! Fest at an exhibit featuring maps from fiction books.
Guests at the Read! Fest at an exhibit featuring maps from fiction books. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Children at a bubble-wrapped sound booth with experimental sound recordings based on an audio book.
Children at a bubble-wrapped sound booth with experimental sound recordings based on an audio book. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - The National Library Board (NLB) launched the fifth edition of its annual Read! Fest on Friday night (June 22), with the highest number of mother tongue literature programmes and local authors it has featured to date.

The festival, which will run until July 28 as part of the National Reading Movement, features more than 150 programmes and 88 authors, of which 84 are local.

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran, the opening ceremony's guest of honour, said: "Literature in our mother tongue languages is an important window for us to learn more about ourselves and our heritage."

He noted that over the past three years, NLB has tripled the number of mother tongue language programmes to 1,200, leading to a more than threefold increase in participants - from 18,000 to 58,000.

Almost half this year's programmes are focused on Chinese, Malay and Tamil texts. This comes on the heels of last year's increase of mother tongue programmes by more than 60 per cent from the year before.

Retired taxi driver Seng Say Lee, 79, chairman of the Taxi Shifu and Friends Reading Club at Ang Mo Kio Public Library, said in Mandarin: "Being able to read together spurs us to read more than we would if we were all at home reading alone."

The 50-strong club gathers every two months and has been reading more local literature of late, such as the books of Chinese-language writer Ai Yu.

This year's festivities feature a number of art installations inspired by literature, such as Atlas: A Catalogue Of Imaginary Cartography, a collection of maps based on books from the library's fiction collection, and Nocturnal Reflections While Travelling, which draws on a poem by Chinese poet Du Fu to reflect the experience of travelling alone.

Artist Berny Tan, 28, produced and hand-bound the 263-map Atlas based on 215 texts, from Lewis Carroll's long poem The Hunting Of The Snark and Haruki Murakami's novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World to Singapore fiction such as Nuraliah Norasid's The Gatekeeper and JY Yang's The Black Tides Of Heaven.

"These maps become a visual representation of the worlds that people could potentially enter through books," said Tan. "It's a wondrous thing."

Membrane, a bubble-wrapped sound booth, immerses visitors in experimental sound recordings based on an audiobook, while Digital Blackout Poetry, an interactive digital installation, allows participants to create their own poetry.

Readers can also swap titles at cafe station Books & Brew and browse through new finds at the library's Story Pods, literary quote-printed deckchairs under domes.

Raffles Girls' School student Ujjayini Mukhopadhyay, who was at the festival for the first time with her mother, said she was looking forward to the Human Library, in which travel writers, artists and photographers share stories of their journeys.

"I hope to gain more insight about their lives as travellers," said the 14-year-old.