As the 2021 Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) draws ever closer, they’re certainly whetting our appetites as they tease even more programmes set to awaken our inner cravings and indulge in our guilty pleasures – literarily, of course.
Over 140 programmes will be featured at this year’s festival, both in person and online. Following news of international headliners such as Ocean Vuong, R.L. Stine, Tan France, and G. Willow Wilson gracing SWF, this second unveiling kicks things up a notch with even more stars of the literary world.
Festival-goers can expect invigorating conversations around the theme of Guilty Pleasures with celebrated writers like Julia Quinn, author of the enticingly addictive Bridgerton series, which has been adapted into a Netflix hit series; two-term US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins; bestselling author of the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert; Goncourt prize-winner and author of The Perfect Nanny, Leila Slimani; Hugo award-winning author Becky Chambers, of the Wayfarers series; and creator of acclaimed podcast Serial, Sarah Koenig.
“We might not realise it often enough, but the things that we enjoy doing and interacting with on a daily basis do belong in the literary realm,” says Festival Director Pooja Nansi. “Through this year’s programmes, we wanted to challenge Festival-goers to reconsider what they know as literary content and explore unexpected ways of storytelling.”
“As we gravitate even more towards the things that bring us comfort during periods of change and discomfort, we hope that the Festival’s programmes shed light on the relationship between pleasure and guilt, and offer a platform that encourages people to redefine their canon.”– Festival Director Pooja Nansi
As one of Asia’s leading literary festivals, SWF almost always shines a strong spotlight on Asian voices. This year, in collaboration with Singapore Book Council, it’s set to further cross-cultural understanding, with panels such as Frontiers of Fantasy: Diving into Superstitions where Hoa Pham, Jocelyn Suarez, and Zen Cho uncover regional superstitions and ghostly cautionary tales; or For the (young) love of Southeast Asia featuring the New York Times bestselling novelist Yangsze Choo.
With Singapore being a multilingual, multicultural nation, look out for other programmes across English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Some of these programmes include The Knots in Being Naughty, an excavation of guilty pleasures in Tamil literary arts with Leena Manimekalai, Vadi PVSS, and Indrajit; or Forget Her Not: Sridevi – The Eternal Screen Goddess with Satyarth Nayak, the author of her biography, and the highly acclaimed director, R. Balk.
Join writer Chang Tieh Chih for a conversation about the medium of the magazine in The Modern Magazine in a Digital Age. Reminisce about food from three capitals of cuisine in Savour the Flavour with Hoo Joo Chuan, Emily Chau, and Wong Chiang Yin. Puisi yang Berisi brings authors from various cities together with acclaimed Indonesian poet Joko Pinurbo alongside Fahd Razy and Farihan Barhon, as they discuss how poetry can be a rallying cry and secret fans of clichéd storylines and happy endings can indulge in the conversation with Nisah Haron and Amanah Mustafi in Malu tapi Mahu.
Beyond the panels, festival-goers can look forward to a series of experiential, in-person programmes including a walkthrough of some of the city’s most gruesome crime scenes with Singapore Crimes: A Tour, while Beware the Smell of Frangipani At Night dives deep into the folklore and urban legends of Asian horror. Alternatively, go for a spin on speed dating with Speed Hating, where participants are paired up and are tasked to hate on similar things together.
You can even learn about the saucier side of literature with Thirst Trap Poetry, or check out Practice Tuckshop’s Extinction Feast performance, which explores how eating fish could well lead to the end of the world. The perennial favourite Festival Debate will also return, this time bantering over the topic This House Believes You Should Always Upsize. With comedians, actors and members of the literati, expect intelligent repartee, and plenty of laughs.
Four keynote commissions will also see artists creating unique personal responses to guilty pleasures across their various disciplines and mediums. Contemporary performance artist Rizman Putra celebrates all things kitsch in OBIT: The Art of Being. Taking audiences back to a beautiful time of multicoloured tights, neon lights, and swinging vibes, Putra’s performance unpacks the offbeat sensibilities and campy style captured by the beloved colloquial expression “Obit”.
Other keynote commissions to look out for include Debasmita Dasgupta’s animated e-picture book Gulabi’s Guilty Pleasures; a video series Fork Your Diet featuring Masterchef Singapore judge Bjorn Shen cooking guilty-pleasures-inspired dishes; and Guilt: The Politics of the Pleasure State, a participatory sonic performance poem by Edith Podesta interweaving corporeal interactions with fictional soundscapes.
SWF also celebrates Hedwig Anuar, the first Singaporean Director of the National Library and founder of our modern library system. This year, the festival will set up their first playground-themed exhibition, designed for all ages, at the National Library Plaza. Rediscover libraries and books as spaces of literary imagination, exploration, and discovery, along with the launch of a digital microsite to learn more about Hedwig Anuar.
At the playground, the kids have all the fun, with engaging programmes aimed at children, including a series of Bilingual Storytime sessions; live drawing with Ross Collins in Dogfoolery and Other Animal Shenanigans, and even a writing workshop with Debbi Michiko Florence in Write Your Next Adventure .
The SWF will also be bringing back their Youth Fringe programme, completely designed and curated by youths, perfect for Gen Z participants. The Youth Fringe, co-presented with Sing Lit Station also presents a series of eight programmes co-created with a panel of Youth Curators including programmes such as The Anatomy of a Wattpad Story, which unpacks the bustling phenomenon of Wattpad fiction and its bite-sized appeal, and How You Like That: Unpacking K-Pop, which dives into the enchanting world of music videos, comics and secret notes from K-Pop superstars like BTS and EXO. This year’s Youth Fringe programmes dig into different facets of teen culture such as horror, (fictional) friendships and the Internet phenomena.
One of the biggest highlights? A chance to connect with Rhianna Pratchett, the creative genius behind popular game narratives such as Tomb Raider and Overlord, as she shares more about what makes a compelling storyline for games during the “meet-the-gamewriter” session. She’s also the daughter of the late Sir Terry Pratchett, best known for the critically-acclaimed Discworld fantasy series.
“In the past year, we have observed many Festivals pivot and adapt to online content delivery channels,” says Executive Director of Arts House Limited, organiser of SWF, Tan Boon Hui. “In this edition of SWF, we are delighted to reconnect the public with our literary community through physical experiences, while continuing to engage both local and international audiences through our digital offerings. Beyond the format, we hope that this year’s very relatable theme resonates with our audiences and provides fresh perspectives on literary arts in Singapore.”
“Reading is an act of dreaming collectively. Over these last two years, it’s been a difficult period in terms of access, but with the hybrid format, and the engagement of both art and writing, we hope to enlarge and amplify the impact of SWF this year. Physical distance does not equal emotional distance, and it is an opportunity for us to find moments of connection with each other.”– Executive Director of Arts House Limited, organiser of SWF, Tan Boon Hui
“We did not have any restrictions this year in terms of what we were allowed to plan, and this theme of Guilty Pleasures, it really is all about celebrating and enjoying things without feeling any shame,” said Festival Director Pooja Nansi, when asked if there were any organisational restrictions in planning the festival. “From Thirst Trap Poetry to romance writing, we have a programme for a diverse audience. It’s a family-friendly programme that’s accessible and exciting, and we do hope it brings you joy in these trying times.”
Public may purchase Festival Passes Plus at $35 with access to all programmes including headliners, or the Festival Pass at $20, a taster pass with access to selected programmes, excluding international headliners. 20% Early Bird Savings are now extended till 8th October 2021. Visit the SWF website or SISTIC Live to purchase your tickets