Joelyn's Book Bites

Book Bites: The Singapore Writers Festival Chronicles Days 1-3

Book BitseIt’s been close to a week since the Singapore Writers Festival opened, and I’ve got quite a bit to say so let’s just jump into the post.

Day #1 – “Officially in the Dark Ages, unofficially in the Renaissance.”

The opening panel of the festival - "Renaissance / Dark Ages."
The opening panel of the festival – “Renaissance / Dark Ages.”

Barely making it in time for the opening discussion panel, I slipped in through the back rows just as Jennifer Crawford was speaking about the rising popularity of creative writing education. With moderator Eleanor Wong, the speakers included Alfian Sa’at, Jennifer Crawford, and Goh Eck Kheng.

The quote above was from Goh, as he was speaking about the Singapore literary scene. While it is true that there is talent and a lot of underground working being done, literary arts is still being pushed aside for matters more, quote Alfian, “pragmatic.” As the latter expressed that, he related the story of how he felt that there were better writers in the courses he took, only to find out that they’ve decided not to pursue writing because of practical or pragmatic reasons. Survival over identity, after all.

There was a lot of rehash, what with people having a cultural cringe (“Eeee Singaporean work! Sure not good one!”), the reading culture seeming to die out internationally, and the fact that Singapore wants to see new talent but they are just not coming out due to the lack of exposure, opportunities, and like Alfian mentioned, practicality.

What was refreshing though, was Goh’s stand as a publisher. After remarking that Singapore’s publishing industry was small, he also mentioned the organic nature of publishers here, having editors decide which books to publish instead of their marketing people.

“I publish authors, not books,” he said.

It was also refreshing to hear Festival Director Paul Tan comment about the need for passionate educators and a better system to inculcate the love of literature not just for grades, but as personal development.

Day #2 – Holding on to little graces in darkness

I went for the panel on the Culture of Violence, featuring speakers Ameena Hussein, Nadeem Aslam, and Ryan Gattis. Moderated by Deepika Shetty, the panel presented a sombre mood, as one would expect.

From left: Nadeem, Ryan, Ameena, and Deepika Shetty.
From left: Nadeem Aslam, Ryan Gattis, Ameena Hussein, and Deepika Shetty.

While the topics discussed were grave, it was inspiring to hear the stories from the three authors, who had lived through violence and has thus, committed those experiences (regardless of subtlety) to paper. While the language used in their works were definitely affected as a victim of violence, it was definitely a source of justice, healing, and perspective for the authors.

This brings about my stand on the beauty of crime or thriller novels – It shows the possibility of holding onto faith and justice in times of darkness or in the face of humanity’s monstrosities.

Day #3 – Literature is Humanity.

To call Sunday busy is an understatement but it brought about a few lessons.

"Can Literature Do Good?" - Colin Cheong, Leonard Ng, and O Thiam Chin answer the question with the help of moderator Stephen McCarty
“Can Literature Do Good?” – Colin Cheong, Leonard Ng, and O Thiam Chin answer the question with the help of moderator Stephen McCarty

Literature can bring life lessons to people, regardless of the genre or intention. In fact, the question boils down to what we see as Literature and if we can relate to it. Therefore, it was great to hear Colin Cheong speak about encouraging his students to read and gain interest with relatable issues and making them read the book and watch the movie adaptations. You must first create interest and if students see your passion for it, it is a good step into getting them to appreciate the written word more.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Arts House and Kinokuniya for the shortlist nomination and gift token for my entry to the SWF Fringe Activity, “Once Upon a Time in Singapore.” The reading was an enjoyable session, and many thanks to Rosemarie Somaiah from the Storytelling Association of Singapore for her wonderful performance reading of my piece, “Do Your Magic.”

(P/S – Many thanks to Guan Liang (Congratulations on your win too!), Daniel, Hui Ee, Valerie, Joyce, and the Tiger (or Max. LOL.) for all your feedback on the short story I submitted for this competition =))

Before I end here though, let me just sneak a note that Wena Poon never fails to entertain us with her funny antics and performance reading. So stay tuned here for a more detailed coverage of that session!

(P/P/S – Something happened while we were queuing to meet Wena. Check it out on Sarah’s blog.)

So far, the Singapore Writers Festival this year has been nothing short of interesting and amazing. The only problem I had with the festival was all the clashing panel timings! Hahaha. Kudos to the team for coming up with this year’s theme. Great job so far =).

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