The power of literature lies in its ability to activate one’s imagination and consider the biggest question of all – ‘what if…?’ How often have we caught ourselves pondering what could have been? Or dreaming about the vast possibilities that the future holds? Those are questions that the 25th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) aims to answer this year, as it returns from 4th to 20th November 2022.
Organised by Arts House Limited (AHL) and commissioned by the National Arts Council (NAC), the theme for this 25th edition is anchored by a single word, IF (JIKA, 若, எனில்), inspired by Singaporean writer Cyril Wong’s poem, “If…Else”. This year’s festival features over 200 in-person programmes, and select online offerings, which include the all-time favourite SWF signature programmes like the Southeast Asian Focus, Youth Fringe, Country Focus, SWF Playground and Literary Pioneer series.
“Every festival responds to its time; and the time that we are at in the world right now is fraught with conflict and uncertainty,” says Festival Director Pooja Nansi. “There are many questions about where we are now as a global society and where we are headed towards as we cautiously make our way out of the pandemic. As the SWF reaches its 25th edition this year, we are embracing this milestone as we grapple with where the Festival is and what its future holds in what feels like a deciding moment in the world. The word ‘if’ conveys a feeling of hope and a second chance as it allows for retrospection and ideation. Through this year’s programmes, we consider the endless possibilities in the worlds that we create and take Festival-goers with us as we imagine exciting new futures as a global community.”
As one of the few multilingual literary festivals in the world, the SWF profiles home-grown writers and Singapore literature in the four official languages. This year, programmes have been co-curated with the Chinese, Malay and Tamil language and literary communities, working closely with key members of the communities as well as co-curators Associate Professor Tan Chee Lay, Deputy Head, Asian Languages & Cultures at National Institute of Education; Mr Chairul Fahmy, Assistant to Editor, Berita Harian at Singapore Press Holdings; and Mr Manogaran Suppiah, Chairman of the Tamil Language Council, to support greater grounds-up involvement in the Festival as part of efforts to build a more vibrant literary arts ecosystem. These collaborations have generated a strong suite of multilingual programmes that reflect the depth and diversity of the literary arts scene.
This year’s Literary Pioneer Exhibition celebrates the contributions of our Malay, female Literary Pioneers and will be the first exhibition in Singapore to do so. Spanning the early 20th century from pre-independence to the present day, the exhibition commemorates the life and works of Raja Aisyah Sulaiman, Adibah Amin, Dr Hadijah Rahmat, Dr Sa’eda Buang, Rasiah Halil as well as the collective, Kumpulan Bebas Melata. Other exciting Malay language programmes include Gita Raga, a concert that showcases new songs from poems written by established literati; BEBAS, an all-female showdown of writers and musicians in a performance of poems; and Jika Kalau, a live series that invites Malay authors and thinkers to respond to the Festival’s theme.
Acknowledged widely as the pioneer of Singapore theatre, the late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun left behind a legacy that lives on through the practitioners who collaborated with him or worked under his tutelage. In the multilingual programme, Celebrating Kuo Pao Kun, artists and theatre practitioners from different fields including Kuo Jian Hong, Peter Sau and more, reflect on Kuo’s works, ideals and his enduring influence.
SWF will be co-presenting programmes with the ChineseLiterary@sg which include A Night of Poetry at Tea Chapter 《茶渊赏诗晚会》, where audiences can join our local poets from the Singapore Association of Writers, Singapore Literature Society and May Poetry Society as they share their favourite poems over tea. Other Chinese language programmes include Reading Jin Yong in English, co-presented with the National Library Board, where participants will be engaged in a bilingual conversation on the translation of Jin Yong’s works, the most influential Chinese wuxia novelist of his time.
The Festival is collaborating with Tamil literary associations such as Association of Singapore Tamil Writers, Kavimaalai and Vassagar Vattam to co-curate and develop a suite of programmes. SWF will also be co-presenting the following programmes with Tamil Murasu: Erasing War: WWII & Singapore Tamil Historical Fiction (ப ோர் நிகழோதிருந்தோல்: இரண் டோம் உலக ்ப ோரும் சிங்ககத் தமிழ் வரலோற்று ் புகனவும்) which opens up possibilities by questioning the shape that local Tamil historical fiction would have taken if WWII had not taken place; and If Not For Food: Tamil Life & Literature in Singapore (உணவின் றிபேல்: சிங்க ்பூர்த் தமிழ் வோழ்வும்இலக்கிேமும்) which explores how Singapore’s food culture enhances Tamil Literature.
Partnering once more with the Singapore Book Council to present the Southeast Asian Focus (SEA Focus) programme, SWF continues to spotlight literature, culture and the arts of the region to facilitate greater cross-cultural understanding across the region. Join regional science fiction and fantasy writers in A Southeast Asian Map for the Science Fiction Future for a conversation on creating distinctively Southeast Asian sci-fi universes; get to know the charismatic con-artists and crafty villains of Southeast Asian fiction in The Big and Bad: Who Rules The SEA?. SWF’s SEA Focus will also feature a curation of films by the Asian Film Archive, two of which will be making their Singapore premiere – Aladin (Indonesia) and Karnal (Philippines); as well as the Thai film Tears of the Black Tiger, which has not been screened in Singapore in almost two decades.
This year’s international headliners include the multi-award-winning American writer Claudia Rankine, recipient of accolades such as the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize; Chinese writer Tung Chiao, whose essay collections have won the Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature; American author Lois Lowry, best known for the young adult dystopian novel The Giver; award-winning Canadian poet and spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan; American science fiction writer Ted Chiang whose short story Story of Your Life was the basis of the 2016 film ‘Arrival’; and renowned Indian artist, Trotsky Marudu, whose multi-faceted work demonstrates the power of art and technology to tell the stories of Tamils the world over.
Young Adult writers are making a strong showing this year, with the likes of Kass Morgan, who penned the hit series The 100 which inspired the television show on The CW Television Network; Dustin Thao, author of the sensational romance novel You’ve Reached Sam; and New York Times bestselling author Chloe Gong, author of fantasy novel These Violent Delights.
Supported by the French Embassy Singapore, SWF’s Country Focus makes a grand return with its spotlight on France, profiling a wide range of French or Francophone writers, covering topics from fiction, non-fiction, poetry, games writing, and sequential arts. SWF welcomes writers such as professor of literature and psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard; and video game journalist Bounthavy Suvilay. Film buffs can also look forward to a series of French film programmes and screenings like Quai d’Orsay and Our Lady of the Nile, made possible with the support of the Embassy of France and Institut Francaise. This includes an opportunity to meet French-Afghan writer and filmmaker, Atiq Rahimi, known for his film The Patience Stone (2012) and other novels. Join in the conversations at FranceSingapore panel discussions such as Occasionally Fiery, Always Fabulous and A Speck in the Universe inspired by Simone de Beauvoir and Jules Verne respectively.
The Festival continues to nurture new generations of literary arts lovers through a range of educational and family-friendly programmes under SWF Playground. Children can get to meet a real-life astrophysicist in Stay Up to See the Stars, a book talk by Lisa Harvey-Smith which is part of a series of programmes featuring women writers in STEM; embark on a tour of Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s floating cardboard city, Head/Home, at the National Gallery Singapore Children’s Biennale, with six different writers at How Far Away From Home?; and meet the creator of the popular Treehouse Series Andy Griffiths in Adventure Architects.
Gen Z literary arts lovers are not left out of the fun as the Youth Fringe returns with a series of programmes curated for youths by youths. Partnering Sing Lit Station, this edition explores a wide range of culturally trendy ideas that appeal to youths and the young at heart, including para-social relationships, games, celebrities, social media, friendship and more. Find out what youths are into today with the Youth Fringe Keynote with Crystal Abidin, as she talks about the ethos and ethics of influencers and popular social media platforms.
SWF 2022 also dives deeper into the ways we experience literature today and tracks the ever-changing forms of storytelling that have nurtured unexpected communities and audiences. Besides exploring the impact of social media in the literary scene in Is it On #BookTok?, the Festival also explores other topic areas such as fantasy and world-building by providing insights to the gaming industry, gameplay and game writing, through collaborations with Singapore Games Association and Jio Play Game, and select Sing Lit texts are turned into table-top gameplays by Curious Chimeras.
In addition, SWF touches on sequential arts, a literary form where words and images collide to tell stories. Award-winning Indonesian comics writer and artist of the Garudayana comics Is Yuniarto shares on adapting Wayang art into the modern age in his lecture Wayang in Modern Mediums, and in Ctrl + Alt + Hist with Benjamin Chee, a workshop by the comics artist of ‘Charsiew Space’, where participants shift between times to meld past, present, and future by creating comics, zines, and narratives from their imagination.
In a partnership with Theatre Today, our senior Festival-goers can stretch their imagination at the creative writing workshop, Three Wishes. Alongside theatre director and drama educator Jeffrey Tan, seniors are invited to reach back into nostalgia or step into their own imagined future and transform their deepest aspirations into creative expression.
The Festival also takes a leap and features a number of inclusive programmes. These include Come for Dinner, Stay for Supper, a collection of two art projects co-created by Superhero Me and children from Kindle Garden, Singapore’s first inclusive preschool; and in a co-presentation with ART:DIS, a leading charity dedicated to creating learning and livelihood opportunities for persons with disabilities in the arts, What If ‘I’ Is Not Me is a discussion and showcase that builds a platform to strengthen the network of inclusivity with diversity.
Since its inception in 1986, the Festival has evolved into a highly anticipated premier multilingual literary arts festival with programmes in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, and strong programming focusing on Sing Lit and regional writing. SWF has featured close to 5,500 homegrown and international talents and hosted international authors from many countries such as Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Macedonia, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the United States of America, the United Kingdom (UK) and Wales.
Programmes celebrating SWF’s legacy include a first-of-its-kind initiative, where past Festival Directors, Yeow Kai Chai and Paul Tan, are invited to look back and reflect on their time at the helm of SWF, as they reprise and reimagine their key programmes for Festival audiences today. Yeow Kai Chai brings Secret Sayang Sessions back from SWF 2015, where audiences commit to an intimate 30-minute session with an unknown author at a secret location to talk about what they feel about sayang and how it features in their work. On the other hand, Paul Tan reimagines SWF through Understanding the Concept of a Canon, centered on the question – is there a canon of Singapore literature? Through three mini-talks, presenters debate on the prevalence and relevance of the concept of a literary canon. He also revisits Dialect Storytelling for Families from SWF 2013 and 2014 to delight audiences once again with charming nursery rhymes and stories of yore in the dialects of Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka, Hokkien and Teochew.
Other novel offerings include a series of weekly conversations with Cultural Medallion recipients such as Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, Suratman Markasan, KTM Iqbal and Wong Yoon Wah, to celebrate their works and legacies
SWF’s festivities will also extend beyond Festival grounds and venues as SWF partners the National Library Board (NLB) to bring, 25 Programmes in 25 Libraries across the island. This collaboration celebrates the longstanding partnership between SWF and NLB as pillars of the literary arts scene, working together to build and support it.
In the Festival Keynote Talk, hear from authors such as Dan Santat, Crystal Abidin and more, as they respond to the question What does a world that is made for you look like?. In addition, SWF 2022 will be visualised in a three-week immersive commission titled If We Paused in Mid Thought where the Council Room at The Arts House transforms into a space of retrospection and futureprojection. The participatory audio-visual installation calls for you to stop, rewind, contemplate, pause, and respond: what would a world made for you look like? Add your own voice to the unfolding narrative alongside interventions by Festival writers and watch the imagined world transform over time with soundscapes and visuals collaboratively designed by UK artist Latekid of fwrdmtn and Singaporean artistic collective Sistrum. A live poetry reading in response to the culmination of this installation will be part of the Festival’s closing.
Ken Tan, Senior Director of Programming and Producing at Arts House Limited said, “The return of the Festival’s full-scale format since the pandemic for its 25th edition marks a definitive time in the Festival’s legacy. In this milestone edition, we look forward to welcoming our local and international audiences back in full capacity and engaging with new and diverse audiences with the Festival’s novel offerings and new touchpoints such as bringing the Festival to public libraries across the island.”
Low Eng Teong, Deputy Chief Executive (Sector Development) at NAC said, “Over the years, the Festival has been a significant platform in profiling home-grown writers and Singapore literature to local and global audiences. As the region’s leading literary festival, it not only provides space for meaningful exchanges between writers and readers, but also creates opportunities for all residents and visitors to come together to meet and be inspired by the world’s top and emerging literary talents. To build a resilient and dynamic literary arts scene, NAC will continue to partner key stakeholders to promote the literary arts through a shared love for stories. We look forward to commemorating the Festival’s 25th edition with its strong line-up of programmes, and celebrating this milestone with the SWF community and beyond.”
Singapore Writers’ Festival 2022 – IF (JIKA, 若, எனில்) runs from 4th to 20th November 2022. Tickets and full programme lineup available here