Record high attendance for Singapore Writers Festival this year

Festival attendees listening to a discussion panel by local writers on writing in and for Singapore, at the Arts House on Nov 5, 2016. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - The 19th Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) last month saw a record attendance of 20,350 people, up from 19,700 last year.

Festival organiser National Arts Council (NAC) said in a statement on Monday (Dec 5) that the annual literary event also sold 3,500 festival passes, 500 more than a year ago and its highest number to date. The $20 passes allowed access to 140 events over the 10 days of the festival, which ran from Nov 4 to 13.

Festival-goers attended 352 events at The Arts House and the Civic District, which featured 312 authors, artists and personalities from Singapore and around the world.

Talks by big names such as American author Lionel Shriver, Japanese manga artist Gosho Aoyama and Man Booker shortlisted writer Hanya Yanagihara, saw full houses.

The festival, which took place in a year of much socio-political upheaval and coincided with the United States presidential elections on Nov 8, also addressed issues such as terrorism, Europe's migrant crisis and the after-effects of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

Festival director Yeow Kai Chai said of the event offerings: "I am glad to see numerous dialogues and discussions that proved to be stimulating and challenging."

Mr Yeow, a poet and former Straits Times journalist who is helming the SWF for the second time, added: "I would like to think that we have succeeded in creating a global village of sorts where people connected and diverse opinions were shared and respected."

More ticketed events and classes were sold out compared to the year before, with seven out of 13 SWF Stage events, such as theatrical performance Siti Khalijah: An Actress Prepares, selling out, compared to two out of 10 last year.

One sold-out event, a talk by Frederik Obermaier, one of the journalists behind the Panama Papers investigation, had to be cancelled because of the speaker's health considerations.

Seven out of 12 masterclasses and workshops were also sold out, compared to four out of nine last year. These included writing masterclasses by Shriver and steampunk fantasy author Gail Carriger.

There were 32 ticketed events this year, ranging from $10 for some workshops for children and young adults, to $300 for a three-day editing clinic with Words Without Borders editorial director Susan Harris.

In total, 10,172 people went for festival pass events, while 2,455 attended ticketed events and 7,705 attended free events.

Separately, 20,943 people attended pre-festival events such as schools outreach programme Words Go Round, compared to about 11,000 last year.

More than 610 people packed the festival's free closing event, the debate "This House Believes That Singaporeans are in the Mood for Love" by writers such as Adrian Tan and Gwee Li Sui, at the Victoria Theatre.

Sales analyst Chong Lingying, 26, who has been to the SWF for the past three years, bought a festival pass and attended four events this year.

She most enjoyed the panel How To Get Your Comic Published, featuring publishers from Math Paper Press, Epigram Books and Asiapac Books, as well as Indonesian comic book colourist Sunny Gho.

"It was a very rare chance to hear from local publishers about comic books in Singapore and Asia in general," she said. "Such industry-focused sessions are very helpful to amateur writers or artists looking to develop a serious career in the arts."

She added that she hopes for a more structured focus on Asian and local literature at next year's festival,which the NAC said will take place from Nov 3 to 12, 2017.

The Straits Times was the official media partner of the festival.

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