SWF 2017 uncovers the complex and layered nature of good and evil, virtue and vice with Festival theme ‘Aram’

3 – 12 November 2017



SINGAPORE, 5 September 2017Singapore Writers Festival (SWF), organised by the National Arts Council (NAC), celebrates its historic 20th edition this year with the Festival theme ‘Aram’, as part of a larger narrative arc starting with last year’s ‘Sayang’ theme.



2          From its premiere as a programme under the larger Singapore Festival of Arts in 1986 to its present reputation as one of Asia’s top literary events, the festival SWF has progressed from being a presentation platform to an inclusive learning programme, reaching out to engage all Singaporeans with its multifarious activities all year-round. As part of NAC’s efforts to broaden the reach and access to literary arts, SWF remains the key platform in profiling home-grown writers so that more Singaporeans can experience, appreciate and be inspired by our writers and Singapore literature (SingLit), as well as getting to meet the world’s top and emerging literary talents.



3          Over the past 30 years, the Festival has become an exciting meeting point of writers, academics and thinkers in a choice spread of panel discussions, workshops, lectures and performances. To mark this major milestone, this year’s programming will recreate several panels from various editions, and a SWF20 exhibition will be held at this year’s Festival featuring a chronology of SWF (see Annex A) and various memorabilia from each edition. A commemorative booklet featuring SWF trivia and a special essay by Gwee Li Sui will also be put together.



4          In conjunction with this, SWF this year will also celebrate Singaporean poet Anne Lee Tzu Pheng in a series of Literary Pioneer events curated by The Arts House. Events under the Literary Pioneer umbrella include the first-ever Literary Pioneer lecture by Lee – an exhibition curated using her five published works, a SingLit 101 lecture on her and her works by literary critic Gwee Li Sui and a night of readings featuring friends, authors and family.



5          “It’s important to remember the past and acknowledge the contributions of those who have come before us,” says SWF Festival Director Yeow Kai Chai. “Today, the Festival aims to engender a sense of curiosity about the world we live in now, and how each of us can strive to make it a better place for all.” 



6         “SWF has grown from strength to strength over the past 20 editions. From its humble beginnings in the 90s that catered to a fairly niche audience, the Festival has evolved in its approach and programming over the years to engage over 41,000 people last year, as we worked with like-minded partners to cement itself as one of Asia’s premier literary events for writers and festival-goers alike. This milestone is a true testament to the growth and appeal of SWF over the years, connecting communities with shared experiences through the love of the literary word. We are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for future editions to encourage even greater participation in the years to come,” said NAC Deputy CEO, Paul Tan.





7          To strengthen the literary talent base and encourage greater diversity in SingLit content in long form such as novels, contemporary fiction as well as Chinese, Malay and Tamil literary writing remains a priority for NAC. In addition to the Council’s support for our local writers through residencies and grants, SWF continues to be a platform that shines a spotlight on local writers. As with previous editions, SingLit will be strongly represented at SWF, including recognisable names such as Deborah Emmanuel, O Thiam Chin, JY Yang, Jennifer Anne Champion and Kevin Martens Wong, amongst other Singapore-based writers such as author Daryl Whetter (Canada), poet William Beale (Australia) and novelist Jo Furniss (UK). 





8          This year’s theme ‘Aram’ (அறம் pronounced ah-ruhm) takes inspiration from the ancient text – Thirukkural which is widely revered as the most influential literary work in Tamil. Anchoring numerous programmes at SWF, the theme of ‘Aram’ zeroes in on the universal ethical concept of what it truly means to be “good”, and seeks to question ethical quandaries and moral conundrums. 



9          Two artists have been commissioned to respond to the theme of Aram this year: visual artist and photographer Alecia Neo, who will be producing a video art project illustrating the theme and a series of photographs that is used as the first-ever photo key visuals for SWF; and writer-performer Deborah Emmanuel, who will be penning original lyrics to a song that will be performed at the Festival.



10        Delving deeper into the role of ‘goodness’ in today’s context, SWF will host its first Aram Conference to promote discourse around the Festival theme; involving speakers across various languages and creating conversations about key topics that have a strong impact on our lives today such as inter-culturalism, cross-border conflict and what youths want for Singapore’s future.



11        Addressing this year’s Festival theme, SWF Festival Director, Yeow Kai Chai shared: “We are always looking for new ways to use SWF as a platform to question different ideals and provoke thought amongst readers and writers alike. The richly nuanced theme of ‘Aram’ is complex and multi-layered, and with conflict and tensions rife in our world today, we hope that this year’s line-up of authors and programming will inspire festival goers to reflect upon the concept of ‘goodness’ in thought, words and action.”





12        The Festival, which takes place from 3 – 12 November 2017, will also feature Ireland as its Country Focus. The contingent of eight Irish authors include poet and editor Gerald Dawe, whose poems chronicle Irish modern history in tumultuous times; short-story writer Colin Barrett whose first book Young Skins (2013) won both the Guardian First Book Award and the Frank O’ Connor Short Story International Prize in 2014; playwright and short-story writer Paul McVeigh whose first novel, The Good Son (2015), won the Polari First Book Prize and the McCrea Literary Award; Irish short story writer Claire Keegan has been translated into 15 languages and her standalone book Foster (2010) won the 2009 Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award; novelist Rob Doyle’s first book Here Are the Young Men was chosen as one of the ’20 Greatest Irish Novels from 1916-2016; young Adult book writer Deirdre Sullivan, widely acclaimed for her trilogy on the teenage years of Primrose Leary; novelist and playwright Éilís Ní Dhuibhne who infuses folklore elements in her novels for young people; and Lingo festival (Dublin) poetry slam champion Abby Oliviera.





13        In addition to being an important platform in promoting Singapore’s emerging and established writers to Singaporeans, SWF also invites international writers for fruitful exchanges of opinions and learning opportunities. Aside from the list of four headlining authors released by NAC in August – Tony Parsons (UK), Ken Liu (US), Lu Min (China) and Datin Saidah Rastam (Malaysia) – festival-goers can look forward to a stellar line-up of internationally-acclaimed authors across genres whose works address the various themes of Aram:


a.      Etgar Keret (Israel): Award-winning Israeli author known for his comics, short stories (The Seven Good Years; Missing Kissinger) and scriptwriting for film and television (Jellyfish; Wristcutters: A Love Story)


b.     Junot Díaz (US): Díaz is a critically acclaimed American writer known for his short stories and novels. He received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), and is currently the fiction editor for the Boston Review


c.      Jay Kristoff (Australia): Australian New York Times and international bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction, Kristoff is best known for his books The Nevernight Chronicle, The Illuminae Files and The Lotus War, which have been published in over thirty countries


d.     Jay Asher (US): Young Adult author Asher is best known for writing best-selling fiction novel Thirteen Reasons Why, which has since been made into a Netflix hit


e.      Edouard Louis (France): Author of The End of Eddy and A History of Violence as well as editor of a scholarly work on the social scientist Pierre Bourdieu, Edouard’s work revolves around issues such as class, gender and violence. 



14        Notable non-fiction authors attending this year’s Festival, include:  


a.    Suki Kim (US): Multi award-winning Korean-American novelist. Best known for her undercover experience in North Korea where she taught English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, documented in the book Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite


b.    Ian Johnson (US): Celebrated writer and journalist based in China, Johnson received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.


c.     Cameron Bloom (Australia): Australian photographer that documented the story of his family’s healing process after a tragic accident through a visual memoir, Penguin the Magpie, which has since been turned into a book


d.    Kaitlin Solimine (US): A Fulbright fellow formerly based in China for over two decades, American Solimine is an award-winning writer whose body of work is focused on China as well as environmental and sustainability issues


e.    Dennis Lim (US): Lim is the director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. The film editor at The Village Voice from 2000 to 2006, he has also written for Artforum, Cahiers du Cinéma, The New York Times and other publications.


f.      Keith Ogorek (US): A publishing industry thought leader, Ogorek has written a number of influential articles including the popular ‘4 Paths to Publishing’. He has self-published three books: A Clear View, Eli the Stable Boy, and 7 Secrets of Successful Self-Published Authors.



15        Poetry giants from around the world will also grace this year’s Festival:


a.      Rae Armantrout (US): With 13 books of poetry to her name to date, celebrated American poet Armantrout also received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Versed in 2010


b.      Simon Armitage (UK): Best-selling author of numerous collections of poetry and fiction including Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Armitage is known for his dark comic poetry, and has also been lauded the updated version of Wordsworth’s ‘man talking to men’


c.      Sholeh Wolpe (US): Poet and translator Wolpe has published four poetry collections, a play, three books of translations, and three anthologies. Her translation of The Conference of the Birds by 12th-century mystic poet Attar was hailed by Reza Aslan as ‘timeless as the masterpiece itself’


d.      Li-Young Lee (US): Born in Indonesia, American poet Lee draws on his Chinese-American heritage in his poems, in particular his early experience of exile and migration.



16        A burgeoning genre that has been picking up popularity in recent years, the popular and emerging sci-fi and fantasy genre will also be strongly represented at this year’s SWF, featuring authors such as:


a.      Aliette de Bodard (France): De Bodard is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories


b.      Marjorie Liu (US): New York Times bestselling author Liu writes novels and comic books and has worked with Marvel on X-23, Black Widow and Astonishing X-Men


c.      Lavie Tidhar (Israel): Israeli Tidhar is the author of many short stories, novellas and novels, including Osama (2011), The Violent Century (2013), and A Man Lies Dreaming (2014)





17        Adding to the rich tapestry of programming, SWF continues its focus on Sequential Arts, featuring these illustrators and cartoonists, amongst others: 


a.      Benjamin Dix (US): Dix used the comic-strip format to highlight human rights and social issues, tackling issues like the abuse of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, crack addicts in Guinea-Bissau, the Somali diaspora and human trafficking


b.      Ben Katchor (US): American cartoonist and illustrator best known for his critically acclaimed comic strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. A Guggenheim Fellowship and MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Katchor was described by author Michael Chabon as "the creator of the last great American comic strip”


c.      Sophia Jansson (Finland): Daughter of cartoonist Lars Jansson and the niece of the famous Finnish writer and painter Tove Jansson, who created the famous Moomins comics



18        Festival-goers will also be treated to performances as part of SWF Stage, such as storytelling, performance poetry, stand-up comedy featuring comedians Fakkah Fuzz, Rishi Budhari, Jinx Yeo and Sharul Channa and crowd favourite – the SWF closing debate – this year titled ‘This House Believes That Kiasuism Is A Good Singaporean Trait’. Key SWF lead-up programme Utter 2017: SingLit Unearthed produced by The Filmic Eye will also showcase the written word adapted into film.





19        Alongside local representation, SWF this year will cast a spotlight on Southeast Asian literature, and use the Festival as a platform for cultural exchange by presenting authors across the region in celebration of ASEAN 50. They are: poet and literary critic Gemino Abad (Philippines), novelist, poet and publisher Douangdeuane Bounyavong (Laos), novelist and translator Ngarmpun Vejjajiva (Thailand), novelist, editor and translator Han Lynn (Myanmar), painter, sculptor and graphic novelist Ing Phousera (Cambodia), novelist and short story writer Fahd Jibran (Indonesia), novelist and translator Nha Thuyen (Vietnam) and short story writer Kathrina Mohd Daud (Brunei).





20        Greater engagement in literary arts can be achieved with the combined efforts of partners such as Tamil Murasu and National Gallery Singapore. Commenting on the partnership with Singapore Writers Festival 2017, National Gallery Singapore CEO Ms Chong Siak Ching said, “We are delighted to partner with the Singapore Writers Festival 2017 to extend to their audiences the opportunity to discover and access the different forms of Southeast Asian art. By marrying the beauty of the written word with visual art through the various festival programmes that will be held within the Gallery spaces, we look forward to introducing the Gallery and its collection to a wider audience.”



21        This year, SWF will co-present with Tamil Murasu Lyrical Roots: The Poetry of Music; a cross-disciplinary performance of music and poetry which invites audiences to witness the beauty of Singapore Tamil verse interpreted by two young pop-rock bands, The Silk Roots and Boxchild. Tamil Murasu will also be presenting a night of storytelling using the folk art forms of the Tamil tradition which was once used to convey values and ethics to rural audiences.





22        Early-bird tickets are available from now till 30 September via SISTIC at www.sistic.com.sg. All Early Bird tickets will be sold at a 20% discount, including the Festival Pass at S$20.00 (regular price at S$25). Ticketing details are available at www.singaporewritersfestival.com and www.facebook.com/sgwritersfest.



For more information, please read on:

·         ANNEX A – Fact Sheet – 20 Years of Singapore Writers Festival

·         ANNEX B – Singapore Writers Festival 2017 Five Festival Tracks Write-up

·         ANNEX C – Singapore Writers Festival 2017 Fact Sheet – Ticketing Information

·         ANNEX D – Singapore Writers Festival 2017 Participating Writers/Artists and Bios


The full press kit can be accessed from this link. Photo captions are of authors’ names unless otherwise stated.