Writers Fest features 300 events for goodness' sake

Poet-musician Deborah Emmanuel performing festival-commissioned song Ocean Free at the opening of the Singapore Writers Festival yesterday.
Poet-musician Deborah Emmanuel performing festival-commissioned song Ocean Free at the opening of the Singapore Writers Festival yesterday.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Event's theme of doing good pertinent in today's polarised world, says Sim Ann

Images, such as one of a foreign worker balancing precariously on a gravel mound, opened the 20th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival yesterday.

Such images from a video by artist Alecia Neo, suggest that doing good in the world is a delicate balancing act and relate to this year's festival theme - Aram, which means "goodness" or "doing good" in Tamil.

Festival director Yeow Kai Chai remarked on the festival's progress from a niche event, catering to the literati, to a platform that reached some 41,000 people last year.

This year's line-up, he added, will "bring to the fore current issues with a strong impact on our lives today, from interculturalism and cross-border conflict to the refugee crisis, and even the hopes and dreams of the young among us".

The 10-day festival of over 300 programmes is meant to contemplate ethical quandaries and moral conundrums, as writers and artists ask what it truly means to be good.

More than 340 writers from Singapore and abroad will be speaking at festival events. They include acclaimed names such as Pulitzer Prize-winners Junot Diaz, Rae Armantrout and Ian Johnson.

At the opening ceremony, spoken word poet Deborah Emmanuel and DJ Kiat of audio-visual collective Syndicate performed the festival's commissioned song, Ocean Free, while a group of storytellers from India presented an excerpt from The Many-Splendoured Folk Art Of Tamil Storytellers.

The ceremony's guest of honour, Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann, said of the theme of Aram: "This is particularly pertinent in a world where we see increasing examples of fragmentation and polarisation, where it gets harder for people to agree to disagree.

"I believe that the Singapore Writers Festival stands as a literary counterpoint to this fragmentation and polarisation.

"As one of the few multilingual literary festivals in the world, the festival highlights the beauty of the written and spoken word across Singapore's four official languages - English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil."

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

Among the highlights of the 20th edition are an insiders' tour of the local book industry, school talks by bestselling international authors, and Read To Teleport, the official SWF bookstore, which recreates the Tiong Bahru space of indie bookstore BooksActually in the Arts House.

The festival closes on Nov 12 with a debate featuring writers Ovidia Yu, Gwee Li Sui and Adrian Tan.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline 'Writers Fest features 300 events for goodness' sake'. Print Edition | Subscribe