Immigration, climate change, personal identities, and social media – the 21st Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) by the National Arts Council seeks to dissect the issues surrounding an increasingly interconnected and multifaceted reality.
Centring around the theme of “界” (world or boundary) with Germany as its country focus, the 10-day festival will feature more than 390 writers and speakers – a record number – as well as over 310 programmes in the Civic District.
Amongst those coming to Singapore for the SWF are American humorist David Sedaris, Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh of Trainspotting fame and Man Booker prize-winning Indian author Kiran Desai, as well as 2001 winner of the Cicero Speaker Prize in the science category Miriam Meckel.
Some events have already sold out (see below), but here are our top 11 picks among those still open (in no particular order):
Being Human: The Migrant Transformations (Festival Pass event)
3 November, 10 – 11am, The Arts House
The panel discussion, sponsored by the School of Humanities at the Nanyang Technological University, will see three writers discuss the evolution of their migrant identities as Asians living and working in Western countries.
The panel will feature Sri Lankan writer Romesh Gunesekera who is based in London, writer Adam Aitken, born to a Thai mother, who is based in Australia, and American poet Cathay Song, of Korean and Chinese descent, who is based in the US.
Crime Scene: Singapore (Festival Pass event)
3 November, 1.30 – 2.30pm, The Arts House
Writers Ovidia Yu, Jo Furniss, and Neil Humphreys discuss why they have chosen Singapore as a backdrop to their crime thrillers, and how these stories can provide insight into society.
Things That Go Bump in the Night I: An Open Mic (Free event)
3 November, 8-9.30pm, The Arts House
Have a ghostly encounter to share? Read your own work in an open mic with speakers Anita Kapoor, Felix Cheong, Joshua Ip, Rosemarie Somaiah and Petrina Kow. Sign up at the door – registration closes 15 minutes after the session begins. If you have time, do head down for Part II on 11 November where six writers, including Ng Yi-Sheng, Judith Huang and Christina Sng, will perform readings of their spooky tales.
Voicing the Voiceless (Festival Pass event)
4 November, 2-3.30pm, National Gallery Singapore
Inequality, racism, gender discrimination, and low-income minorities – different issues tackled on diverse platforms. Three speakers at this panel discussion discuss how and why they employ their chosen medium to communicate their messages. For instance, German spoken-word artist Fatima Moumouni uses slam poetry, while Singaporean musician Subhas Nair raps.
Excuse Me, Are You a Singaporean Novel? (Festival Pass event)
7 November, 7.30-8.30pm, The Arts House
What constitutes a “Singaporean” novel and does it have to be written by a Singaporean? Get insight on these questions at a panel discussion by local authors whose works traverse different cultures – from Meira Chand’s stories set in Japan, to Daryl Qilin Yam’s tale featuring the kappa from Japanese folklore, to Sebastian Sim’s dark comedy of three women embroiled in the aftermath of the Little India riot.
The Ghost In Your Head (Ticketed event: $30)
8 November, 7-9pm or 9.30-11.30pm, The Arts House
The theatrical experience, per its namesake, is billed as a “multi-sensorial encounter” with dead writers, literary villains, and heroines. Across six rooms within the Arts House, visitors get to play mahjong and gossip with an actress playing Chinese author Eileen Chang, enjoy poetry by literary greats like Li Bai at a bar, and get to meet Miss Havisham, the spinster jilted on her wedding day in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
One Voice: The Best of ASEAN Performing Arts 2018 (Free event)
9 November, 8-9.30pm, Victoria Theatre
Organised in conjunction with Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship, the concert will showcase top songwriting talents across 10 Southeast Asian countries. Register for a ticket here.
For Better or Worse: The World in 2068 (Festival Pass event)
10 November, 4.30-6pm, The Arts House
What would the world be like in 50 years? Join German bestselling book author Miriam Meckel, professor of American literature Sarah Churchwell, investigative journalist Jeff Goodell and former lawyer Shamini Flint as they speculate about the future.
Place and Displacement: Finding Oneself in 2018 (Ticketed event: $20)
11 November, 1-2pm, Victoria Theatre
In this lecture, Man Booker prize winner Kiran Desai examines the role of a writer amidst the backdrop of a chaotic present fraught with cultural clashes and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
This House Believes that Singaporeans are Better Off With Social Media (Festival Pass event)
11 November, 7-8.30pm, Victoria Theatre
Swing by to this year’s closing debate on a matter close to Singaporeans’ hearts (well, other than queuing and transport): social media. Hear from the likes of local online personality Preetipls, actor Suhaimi Yusof, writer Daryl Qilin Yam, and poet Gwee Li Sui as they debate the pros and cons of socialising on the internet.
Kafka’s Room: metamorphosisVR (Free event)
2 – 11 November, various timings, The Arts House
Are you a fan of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, where salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect? Be sure to visit this virtual reality installation, titled after the novel, as it brings the “Kafkaesque” experience to life – thankfully, for just five minutes. The work is a collaboration between Goethe-Institut, film director Mika Johnson and producer Shahid Gulamali.
Note: Other events that have sold out include: Love, Death and Family Life: Postcards from David Sedaris, Irvine Welsh’s Who Are We and Where Do We Belong?: Questions in a Divided World, The Road Home: Stories of Royal Dreams, Exalted Tombs, and Merchants’ Mausolea of Singapura and former member of the Swedish counter-terrorism unit Andreas Norman’s Probing the Psychological Thriller.
The SWF Festival passes are available for purchase at $25 each at sistic.com.sg or its ticketing counter at the Arts House. Visitors can also buy tickets for selected programmes at the counter. More details are available here.
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