Singapore Writers Festival Inspires Fresh Love For The Written Word




Diverse programmes attracted wide variety of readers and writers

Singapore, 15 November 2012 – The 2012 edition of the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) drew to a rousing close with the Festival’s Closing Debate: ‘Sinking Roots Here Is Little More Than Shopping And Eating’. Wrapping up ten days of inspiring and fun-filled literary activities, the Closing Debate played to a full-house crowd, with tongue-in-cheek yet thought-provoking exchanges on the Singaporean identity. The energy and engagement amongst participants at the Closing Debate encapsulated the spirit of the Festival this year – a broad range of audiences and a lively debate with wit and intelligence.


2          Featuring 192 writers in more than 200 programmes, SWF offered an inclusive programme featuring many well-loved international and Singaporean writers. Preliminary survey results show that audiences remain pleased with their experiences at SWF 2012, with a higher rating for the free Off The Page programmes.


3          Festival Director Paul Tan said, “There are so many highlights for myself and the team this year. The queues for Michael Cunningham, Jimmy Liao and Mick Foley that snaked around the Festival Pavilion. The young people who attended for Mr S R Nathan’s Meet-the-Author session and Professor Tommy Koh’s excellent moderation which drew out his incredible life story. The faces of the happy children and parents at our Little Lit programme. The Middle Eastern focus which saw trenchant discussion and moving stories. The record number of new Singapore creative writing launched. The electrifying conversation between Marina Mahathir and Catherine Lim. The countless discussions on books and ideas that buzzed in the entire Festival district.”


4          “It has been an exhilarating Festival for us. The team and I have been delighted by the positive audience response and gratified we have played a part – however small – in contributing to the cultural and intellectual life of the city.”


Programme highlights

5          One welcome return at this year’s Festival were the much anticipated SWF Lectures, which kicked off with a sell-out session with Pulitzer-Prize winner Michael Cunningham who spoke on storytelling and its evolution. Audience member Daniel Ling, 24, shared, “Michael Cunningham’s lecture was incredibly stimulating. He not only reminded us that in this digital age, a good book is still worth reading from cover to cover, but also encouraged young writers to never give up.” The second SWF Lecture featuring Taiwanese author Huang Chun-ming was also well-received with more than 140 people in attendance.


6          The Festival also consciously created programmes that resonated with the growing group of budding writers in Singapore. In addition to the popular sell-out workshops and master classes and a Flash Fiction contest organised with the National Library Board, there was critical panel discussions such as Up and Coming, You Can Write Too! and New Voices in Singapore Poetry. These panels spotlighted new talents in Singapore while offering insights to new writers on how to get started on writing and keep the momentum going.


7          One of the anchors of this year’s Malay programming was the tribute to one of Singapore’s literary pioneers, the late Masuri SN. “An Ode to Masuri SN” was a specially commissioned exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) which celebrates the poet’s literary life and prolific talents. There was also a tribute event curated by drama educator Oniatta Effendi featuring a series of poetry readings and performances by Masuri SN’s close friends, students, teachers, and poets.


8          Said audience member Nabilah Said, 27, “The tribute was a great way to commemorate Masuri’s works. I was very touched by the stories shared by his son, and enjoyed the different and personal takes by the artists of his poems. The performers’ admiration and love for the man was evident. Masuri SN was not just a great artist, but also a kind-hearted and loving friend, teacher, father and son of the soil.”


9          For the Tamil programming, the highlights this year included a well-attended seminar on Tamil author Dr M Varadrajan, a sold-out song-writing workshop by Vasantham celebrity Shabir Tabare Alam and a micro-poetry contest co-organised by the Kavimalai group for first time during SWF. 


10        New this year at the Festival was SWF Fringe, curated by The Arts House, which focused on the topic of desire in literature and the manifestation of sexuality in books, films, dance and the visual arts. These night-only programmes attracted many curious Festival-goers, who were keen to experience a different facet of the literary arts. Audience member Belinda Tan, 37, said, “The no-holds barred discussions at the Fringe events really allowed for an open exchange of honest ideas and insights. It was great to meet like-minded individuals at SWF Fringe and I think the openness of the conversations has struck a common chord with both men and women from all walks of life.”


 Attendance and participation

11        With 51 international and 141 Singapore authors, the Festival drew over 16,200 participants in free and ticketed events, competitions as well as programmes accessible with the Festival Pass. An additional 22,020 visitors experienced the Masuri tribute exhibition at NMS and the art installation, Snake, at the Singapore Art Museum’s front lawn.


12        Out of the 16,200 participants, 2,624 attended SWF’s individually ticketed events. This included the SWF Lectures, Workshops and Master Classes, the Publishing Symposium, and Literary Meals and Cocktails held at The Arts House. Apart from the SWF Lecture featuring Michael Cunningham, the Literary Meals with him, Pico Iyer and Mick Foley were also sold out. Workshops and master classes also did well, with 13 out of 15 workshops at full capacity, including It’s Not About You: Writing A First Novel, Writing Powerful Fiction for Young Readers, Writing Fashion, Writing for the Bright Lights and Big Stage and The Sun Always Shines on TV: Creating a Drama Series.


13        With a greater focus on Festival Pass events and more panels programmed, more than 2,300 Festival Passes were taken up (an increase of 15% compared to 2011), with the average Festival Pass holder attending three panels each. Some popular panel discussions included:

  • Panel Discussion: Getting Lost; Getting Inspired
  • Panel Discussion: Finding the Child in Me (Chinese)
  • Panel Discussion: Of Book Awards and Best Sellers
  • Panel Discussion: My Book is Studied in Schools!
  • Marina Mahathir in conversation with Catherine Lim
  • Meet the Author: Mick Foley
  • Meet the Author: Jimmy Liao (Chinese)
  • Meet the Author: SR Nathan


14        In addition, the strong line-up of authors from China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia saw a bigger turnout at the respective language sessions compared to 2011. Close to 1,140 participants attended this year’s Chinese panels while the Malay panels received 235 participants in total.