Singapore Writers Festival 2011 closes on a high note


Singapore, 3 November 2011


Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) 2011 capped the wide-ranging nine-day Festival with a raucous tongue-in-cheek closing debate, weighing the motion: “This House Would Trade English for Singlish”. Featuring Singaporean writers in the debating teams, the two teams sparred over the place of Singlish in literature and the larger society. With an active audience participation, the match was declared a tie by popular consensus.


Audience member Lee Meixian, shared, “I was quite surprised at how much fun the closing debate was and how I could relate to it. I always thought that literary festivals were about book discussions and authors, now I know there’s so much more. I’ll definitely pop by next year to see what SWF 2012 offers!”


The programming of this year’s SWF, themed “Transaction”, drew in a broad audience, from literary fans to families and from aspiring writers to non-fiction lovers. Four out of five festival goers were first-timers and approximately nine out of ten were satisfied with their experience at SWF 2011.


Programme Highlights

Among the new features for SWF2011 is the SWF Lecture Series which kicked off with a sell-out talk by Steven Levitt titled Freakonomics / Superfreakonomics: Unconventional Thinking. Additional seats added were also quickly snapped up by ardent fans. The other two SWF Lectures headlined by novelists Michael Chabon and Bi Feiyu were also well-received.


Audience member Cheang Kolyn, 13 said, “My parents read Freakonomics by Dr Steven Levitt, and decided to come for his lecture – naturally they brought me and my sister along. From this, we realised how interesting SWF is this year, and this encouraged me to attend more events like the WriteCamp and Moving Words Anthology launch.” When asked if she will come back for SWF next year, Kolyn replied enthusiastically, “Yes, definitely!”


One group of participants whom underlined the inclusive programme was the arts charity, Migrant Voices, which brought to light creative works written by members of the low-wage foreign worker community in Singapore. Another unique community project saw eight Singapore writers visiting HCA Hospice Care and SWAMI home for PasSAGES. The stories inspired by these visits were shared with the public during the Festival.


SWF 2011 also worked with the National Library Board (NLB) to organise rare book tours, a speed-dating session and to bring selected authors to the book club at Woodlands Regional Library. The NLB’s Taxi Sifu book club members also got to exercise their story-telling skills as they shared their ghost stories with members of the public.


Students from the Singapore Management University (SMU) were also actively involved in the SWF in various ways: from emceeing literary events and programme volunteers to creating literary-inspired installation art.


Spotlight on Singapore Literature

While SWF2011 brought to the reading public headlining and new international writers, it also put the spotlight on Singaporean literature.


On top of panels and workshops featuring over 80 Singapore authors, there were also many opportunities for writers to network, learn and develop new partnerships.


That is why the SWF team programmed workshops and master classes, the SWF Publishing Symposium, and organised the Media Development Authority (MDA)-NAC networking session to matchmake writers with media producers. The take-up for all of these events was strong, if not over-subscribed


One event presented in conjunction with the SWF to enhance the Festival’s offerings is the two-day World Tamil Writers Conference. The first international conference on diaspora Tamil literature was well-received and participants keenly explored issues and concerns facing contemporary Tamil-language writers.


To inspire a new generation of writers, aspiring young writers under NAC’s Mentor Access Project, Ministry of Education’s Creative Arts Programme and Nanyang Technological University’s Creative Writing Programme were also active participants.


Attendance and Participation

SWF 2011 registered a strong turnout for its fourteenth and first-ever ticketed edition. Close to 13,500 people enjoyed the nine-day festival’s wide-ranging programmes which included free and ticketed events, as well as those accessible with the Festival Pass. In addition, the SWF-co-commissioned art installations at Singapore Art Museum and the word-inspired undergraduate works at SMU attracted 43,000 visitors. Interim results from the visitor survey showed that 80% of these attendees were first-timers. Over 1000 Festival Passes were taken up, while total ticket sales for ticketed events came in at 2,260.


Packed panel discussions and in-conversation sessions included:

  • True Artists Do Not Want State Funding,
  • The Sly Art of Travel Writing
  • Drooling over Food Porn: How to Write Deliciously.
  • Edwin Thumboo in conversation with Andrew Motion
  • From Page to Screen (on Screenwriting)
  • Balancing the Books (featuring Michael Chabon and Joe Haldeman)
  • Musee d’Orsay Readings.


“I want to say ‘Thank you’ to the fans and readers in Singapore for giving us such a welcoming reception. I was especially moved by the Filipino readers who made the trip down to the Singapore Writers Festival to be part of the panel discussions, thank you all for being such a great audience,” said celebrated Filipino writer F. Sonil Jose, who was a panellist on True Artists Do Not Want State Funding.


Nizam Ismail, a participant of the panel discussion Crossing the Generations: Malay Literature in Singapore Today on 23 October, shared, “It was a very interesting, lively panel discussion. We’re seeing a renaissance of sorts and I think the questions and issues discussed today were closely related to the issue of whether Malay theatre companies will continue to remain relevant and appeal to a broader cross section of audiences. It is heartening to know that the current trend is pointing to that direction.”


Workshops and master classes also proved popular. Four out of the six workshops and master classes with a seating capacity of 30 were sold out. These were Picture Book Workshop, Making Up Stories, Screenwriting 101 and Building Other Worlds – The Fundamentals of Writing Science Fiction.


For science fiction maven, Joe Haldeman, participating at SWF gave him a glimpse into the Asian literary landscape and he was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming response from the science fiction fans out here in Asia.


“It was great fun and an educational experience to meet and talk with so many writers who live and work in Singapore and other parts of Asia.  I was gratified that so many enthusiastic science fiction readers showed up for panels and discussions – from publishers' records I knew that many of my books were bought over here, but it was gratifying to see the readers as actual people,” said Haldeman, after his Meet-The-Author, panel and workshop sessions held over the last weekend of the Festival.


The sold-out SWF Publishing Symposium proved instructive for both industry players and aspiring writers. International speakers such as Robert Nichols and Fran Lebowitz, editor and former New York literary agent, shared useful information on new publishing trends, offered tips on how to get published and marketed, discussed ways to convert your work into an E-book and more. This was complemented by the first Rights Fair which saw 15 publishers and literary agents set up booths to meet aspiring writers and fellow publishers to discuss and sign book deals.


Also, SWF participants sat down for an informal meal and friendly banter with their favourite writers. Held at the Arts House, Literary Meals with Sir Andrew Motion, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Vikas Swarup were sold out.


Free Events

Free events attracted a robust response from the public. Members of the public were treated to an array of programmes including accessible Little Lit! activities for families and Off the Page programmes, where they sat in for creative performances, appreciated installation art and participated in writing competitions, wacky open-mic readings and more.


Singapore Writers Festival in 2012

Festival Director Paul Tan says: “This year’s festival sets the benchmark for next year’s edition. While we are delighted by the audience visitor, we must be careful of hubris! It was certainly heartening for the team and I to see audiences enthralled by the authors, and soaking in the lively atmosphere at the Festival District. This success would not have been possible without all our partners and sponsors. We’re already in discussion on next year’s Festival and we hope to bring an even more engaging, exhilarating and enriching programme for the 2012 edition.”