Read! Fest spotlights mother tongue literature

Guests at the Read! Fest yesterday checking out Atlas: A Catalogue Of Imaginary Cartography, an installation featuring a collection of 263 maps based on books from the National Library's fiction collection.
Guests at the Read! Fest yesterday checking out Atlas: A Catalogue Of Imaginary Cartography, an installation featuring a collection of 263 maps based on books from the National Library's fiction collection.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

The National Library Board (NLB) launched the fifth edition of its annual Read! Fest last night, 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 whom 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 over 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 to Singapore fiction such as Nuraliah Norasid's The Gatekeeper. "These maps become a visual representation of the worlds that people could potentially enter through books," said Tan.

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

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2018, with the headline 'Read! Fest spotlights mother tongue literature'. Print Edition | Subscribe