Canadians have a lot in common with Singapore when it comes to linguistic diversity and expression. Such topics and more will be explored at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival. Mallika Naguran reports.
SINGAPORE, 3 September 2019 – The Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) promises a literary extravaganza with a host of talks, workshops and cultural events with participating authors from this region and beyond.
The festival’s theme “A Language of Our Own” seeks to examine the role of languages in the formation of identities and communities at a time when the world is becoming increasingly globalised, yet fractured. The country of focus this year, in the spirit of the theme, is multi-cultural Canada. The festival will be held from 1-10 November 2019 at the Civic District in Singapore.
This year, the theme invites authors and the audience to reflect what they might consider when talking about different types of language, including Singlish and emojis, and how as systems of communications, languages have both the power to create a sense of belonging and to also cause displacement.
Some of these programmes include the “Words We Love” series which will examine four words and phrases Singaporeans love and the richness of meaning they offer, and “Chatbots and the Human Connection” which will explore what chatbot research shows about society’s language habits.
Festival director, Pooja Nansi, says: “Language allows us to navigate through an increasingly complex and multi-faceted world. This year’s theme invites audiences to reflect on how language can be used to rethink existing social models and evolve to accommodate the changing tides of our present. We hope to spark conversations around the importance of language in the formation of our sense of self and community, and in turn, how language can foster a more inclusive society in a culturally and linguistically diverse Singapore.”
This edition will see literary heavyweights from around the world, some of whom are featured for the first time in Asia, headlining the festival such as Marlon James from Jamaica.
Marlon James is the author of four novels: John Crow's Devil, The Book of Night Women, A Brief History of Seven Killings, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, and Black Leopard, Red Wolf (which has been referred to as the African Game of Thrones). Now living in Minneapolis, James teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Often his novels display the struggle to find an identity.
He will be delivering the Festival Prologue, as well as participating in the “In a Tiny Room” series where festival-goers will have the opportunity to interact with renowned
Roxane Gay (US) Born in Omaha, Nebraska to a family of Haitian descent, Roxane Gay is the author of The New York Times best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist (2014). She has also been named as a writer for Marvel Comics’ World of Wakanda, making her the first Black woman, alongside Yona Harvey, to be lead writers for Marvel. Much of her work lies in the fiction and creative non-fiction genres, and deals with the analysis and deconstruction of feminist and cultural issues. As a headliner, Gay’s work speaks strongly to the festival’s focus on redressing the ways in which we use language and its effects on diversity and inclusion.
Roxane Gay will be speaking at the Festival Gala about Language and The Body alongside Singaporean playwright Joel Tan and Canadian novelist Kagiso Leseho Molope. She will also be presenting a lecture on Identity and Pop Culture, and participating in the “In A Tiny Room” series.
SWF 2019 also introduces the Festival Gala, a new format that invites speakers to each speak on a topic for 15 minutes. Featuring acclaimed writers and well- known figures such as Roxane Gay, Joel Tan and Kagiso Lesego Molope, the Gala seeks to bridge speakers and audiences together in topics relevant to our society today.
SWF for Youths
This year, SWF will be extending its reach to youths aged 13 to 18 with a new festival focus. The SWF Youth Fringe is in line with the Council’s efforts to nurture early engagement with the literary arts. Organised in partnership with the Singapore Book Council, several events at the SWF Youth Fringe will be curated by a panel of Youth Curators from a number of schools including Temasek Junior College and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. The programme includes the discussion of topics and genres youth are interested in such as Young Adult (YA) fiction, K-drama, zine- making, memes and text-speak as a language. It will be headlined by Nicola Yoon (Jamaica - US), a New York Times-bestselling author whose YA novels, The Sun is Also a Star and Everything, Everything have been adapted into movies.
Southeast Asian Focus
The festival continues to provide a platform for the promotion of Southeast Asian literature and literary talents to a wider audience, with a dedicated series of panels and talks that profile Southeast Asian writers and their works. Topics of discussion include postcolonial insights on Malay literature, art and visual culture in Southeast Asia, the challenges and triumphs faced while working in cross-cultural collaborations across Southeast Asia, and the indigenous language and culture of Sarawak, which will be showcased in a performance by Nading Rhapsody, an avant-garde ethnic Bornean ensemble.
There will also be cross-cultural programming such as a Malay-English bilingual event that celebrates Malay literary masters in the Nusantara region, a bilingual wayang kulit performance by Unggun Creative where traditional Malay folklore is retold with a contemporary twist, and a performance and reading entitled “A Spotlight on Indigenous Voices”, which features some of the festival’s best international performers and spoken word poets from places such as Canada’s First Nations and Minang Kabau.
Exploring Canadian Linguistic Diversity
This year’s Country Focus is Canada – a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi- racial country that draws many parallels with Singapore. The pertinent issues of immigration, and cultural and linguistic diversity in both countries also resonate with the festival theme, and allow for a rich exchange of ideas.
There’ll be ten highly acclaimed Canadian writers to the festival this year. They include Chelene Knight, a poet and creative non-fiction writer of the memoir Dear Current Occupant, which won the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and Kamal Al- Solaylee, a Yemeni-born journalist and author of Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone) and Intolerable: A Memoir of Extreme.
“We are thrilled that Canada is the Country of Focus for this year’s SWF and we look forward to having our Canadian writers engage with Singapore’s passionate literary audiences,” shared H.E. Lynn McDonald, High Commissioner of Canada in Singapore. “‘A Language of Our Own’ is a theme that resonates strongly with Canada: like Singapore, we celebrate our rich linguistic and cultural diversity as a source of strength and a fundamental part of our Canadian identity. The 10 Canadian writers who will participate in SWF this year are a true representation of our country’s literary talent and our unique multi-cultural mosaic. We look forward to deepening our mutual understanding and appreciation of the power of language to promote inclusion through the meaningful programmes offered at SWF this year.”
The Singapore Writer’s Festival is organised by the National Arts Council of Singapore.