Wordsmiths riff on guilty pleasures
The 24th Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) brings together local and international authors under the theme, ‘Guilty Pleasures’ for a heady mix of more than 140 online and in-person events. Presented by Arts House Limited and commissioned by the National Arts Council, SWF runs from 5 to 14 Nov. Festival-goers can expect poetry readings, walking tours, writing workshops and conversations with dozens of established and up-and-coming authors.
Headliners include Julia Quinn, writer of the book series behind hit Netflix costume drama, Bridgerton; former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins; and best-selling author of the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. Also taking part are Becky Chambers, whose Wayfarers quartet won a Hugo Award, the premier prize in science fiction, and Sarah Koenig, the creative force behind acclaimed podcast, Serial.
“We want to challenge festival-goers to reconsider what they know as literary content and explore unexpected ways of storytelling as we gravitate even more towards things that bring us comfort during periods of change and discomfort” says Festival Director, Pooja Nansi. The goal is “to shed light on the relationship between pleasure and guilt, and offer a platform that encourages people to redefine their canon.”
“We all have our own guilty pleasures and this makes the festival’s theme very relatable”, says Tan Boon Hui, Executive Director at Arts House Limited. “We hope this year’s theme resonates with our audiences and provides fresh perspectives on literary arts in Singapore.” Tan is excited to reconnect the public with the literary community through physical experiences, after the 2020 festival was confined to the virtual world because of the pandemic.
One of this year’s live events is Singapore Crimes: A Tour – a walkthrough of some of the city’s most gruesome crime scenes. Beware the Smell of Frangipani at Night, hosted by local writer Suffian Hakim, delves into the folklore and urban legends of Asian horror. If slasher flicks are your guilty pleasure, this one is for you!
There are four keynote commissions to showcase personal responses to guilty pleasures. Performance artist Rizman Putra celebrates all things kitsch in OBIT: The Art of Being. Debasmita Dasgupta shares her animated e-picture book, Gulabi’s Guilty Pleasures, while Bjorn Shen of MasterChef Singapore serves up guilty foodie pleasures in a video series he calls Fork Your Diet. Last but not least, Guilt: The Politics of the Pleasure State is a sonic performance poem by Edith Podesta.
SWF is the premier literary festival in the region, and it continues to transcend boundaries and cross borders by promoting cross-cultural understanding. Writers from all over Southeast Asia discuss differences in superstitions and ghostly folk tales in a panel called Frontiers of Fantasy: Diving into Superstitions, while New York Times bestselling novelist Yangsze Choo leads a discussion on romantic adventures in For the (Young) Love of Southeast Asia. The polyglot voices of this part of the world are reflected in multilingual programmes in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
SWF’s growing reputation has also drawn in award-winning children’s horror story writer, R.L. Stine; T. S. Eliot Prize-winning poet, Ocean Vuong; G. Willow Wilson, author of comedic novel Ms. Marvel; and Tan France, host of Queer Eye and author of bestseller Naturally Tan: A Memoir. And the list goes on, with critically acclaimed screenwriter, Yan Geling; host of MasterChef Singapore, Bjorn Shen; author of Wet Market To Table and founder of Singapore Noodles, Pamelia Chia; and prizewinning poet, Geetha Sukumaran.
Every good festival has a fringe, and SWF’s Youth Fringe has eight programmes that cater to Gen Z by mining the seams of teen culture horror fiction, fictional friendships and the power of the internet. Rhianna Pratchett, the fertile mind behind popular game narratives such as Tomb Raider and Overlord, will be on hand to discuss what makes a compelling game storyline. Co-presented with Sing Lit Station, Youth Fringe highlights include The Anatomy of a Wattpad Story, examining the bite-sized appeal of Wattpad fiction, and How You Like That: Unpacking K-Pop, which dives into the music videos, comics and secret notes of K-Pop superstars BTS and EXO.
Nurturing the next generation, there are fun programmes for children at the SWF Playground. Bilingual Storytime is a meander through food, friends and fanciful imagination in English and mother tongue languages. The kids can get up to no good with cheeky live drawing session, Dogfoolery and Other Animal Shenanigans, while Debbi Michiko Florence shows the young ones how to start writing creatively in Write Your Next Adventure.
Aspiring writers of all ages can also sink their teeth into SWF Classroom sessions like Make Me a (Poetry) Sandwich! – a tasty breakfast-themed poetry writing workshop with Cecilia Knapp – or join writer and film producer Jamal Ismail in Script-writing Workshop.
In short, SWF is bigger and better than ever. There really is something for everyone! View the full line-up for Singapore Writers Festival here. Early Bird passes are available until 8 Oct.