ST columnist meets readers at Singapore Writers Festival

ST executive editor Sumiko Tan talking to readers yesterday at a session moderated by author Phan Ming Yen.
ST executive editor Sumiko Tan talking to readers yesterday at a session moderated by author Phan Ming Yen.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan said her personal columns have dealt so much with dying and death partly because of her early days as a crime reporter.

Ms Tan met readers at The Arts House yesterday, where she spoke about her writing. The meet-the-author session is part of the 20th edition of the ongoing Singapore Writers Festival (SWF).

At the session moderated by author Phan Ming Yen, Ms Tan said topics that she usually writes about include death, dogs, love and being lonely. These are subjects she feels for, she said, adding: "And I am always thinking about death."

Part of this preoccupation stems from her early days as a crime reporter when she covered tragedies like the Hotel New World collapse. Other reasons include the death of a younger brother when she was in her 20s, and her living near a nursing home.

Ms Tan, 53, who has been a journalist since 1985, read from a column titled Birth, Life And Death, which she wrote two years ago about a close friend who died from cancer. The article has been included in her book Sundays With Sumiko, which was launched in June.

During the session, readers got to ask her questions and one was concerned about the repercussions of writing about people who might not like being written about.

Ms Tan replied: "I would try not to write about anything personal that might hurt someone else."


    Writing A Personal Column: The Dos And Don'ts

    Where: The Arts House, Blue Room

    When: Nov 10, 8.30pm to 9.30pm

    Admission: SWF Festival Pass ($25) required

Freelance designer Aisha Naya, 24, said she grew up reading Ms Tan's articles. "I respect her as a writer. There is a kind of candour and honesty to her columns. I was very excited to see her in person for the first time. Listening to her, I feel inspired to write."

The SWF is organised by the National Arts Council. This year's festival theme is Aram, a Tamil word meaning "goodness" or "doing good". The word makes a notable appearance in Thirukkural, an ancient text about ethics and everyday virtue that is widely revered as the most influential literary work in the language.

The 10-day festival, which opened on Friday, features more than 300 programmes, and is meant to question ethical quandaries and moral conundrums as writers and artists ask what it truly means to be good.

Among those speaking are acclaimed names such as Pulitzer Prize winners novelist Junot Diaz, poet Rae Armantrout and journalist Ian Johnson.

Yesterday, Ms Armantrout conducted a poetry masterclass, and British anthropologist Benjamin Dix spoke about his trilogy of comics about asylum seekers.

On Friday, Ms Tan, together with Singapore-based author Frog Michaels and writer Adibah Isa, will be part of a panel discussion on writing personal columns.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 05, 2017, with the headline 'ST columnist meets readers at Singapore Writers Festival'. Subscribe