SWF 2016 reflects on the human condition with investigative journalists, graphic novelists, musician-poets, YouTube essayists and more


4 – 13 November 2016



SINGAPORE, 6 September 2016 – The 19th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) scans the state of the world, perusing life’s hard knocks as well as embracing the things we have valued and lost. It scours media headlines, zooming in on concerns ranging from the refugee crisis in Europe to the US Presidential Elections to more personal situations such as adoption and living with disabilities.


2          Centred around the festival theme Sayang, almost 330 writers from Singapore and the world will congregate over 10 days at the Civic District to examine how global affairs have centrifugal ripples.


3          For the first time, the SWF has chosen a non-English theme ‘Sayang’ – a beautiful, melancholic Malay term of endearment which means love but can also denote a sense of loss – to exhort all to reflect on the things we treasure and sacrifice in the march of modernity. The word also pays homage to Singapore’s place in South-east Asia and the region’s rich, colourful cultures. It highlights the ties which bind us, and the universality of stories across continents.  


4         A strong brigade of acclaimed headliners will wrestle with the world’s most pressing issues. These include writer-journalist Lionel Shriver (US), best known for We Need to Talk About Kevin and latest devastating novel, The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047, examines an eerily plausible spectre of an American economic collapse and looks at what financial ruin means to people who are most affected by it. Audiences can also learn from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Vijay Seshadri (India/US), whose poem ‘The Disappearances’ spoke to an America in the wake of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks; writer-actor Shobasakhti (France/Sri Lanka) who won acclaim for playing the lead in the powerful 2015 Cannes-winning film Dheephan, about the fate of Tamil refugees who flee civil war-ravaged Sri Lanka; broadcast journalist Atia Abawi (US) who will examine the Europe migrant crisis;  Karan Mahajan (India/US), whose latest book, The Association of Small Bombs, portrays the toll of terrorism on survivors and perpetrators; Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter, US) who will analyse the US Presidential Elections; and German investigative journalist Frederik Obermaier, one half of the team who casts light on The Panama Papers, the biggest data leak ever. These issues will also be addressed in a brand new SWF Classroom Series, with engaging seminars and talks on topical subjects such as politics, sciences and history, which aim to enrich worldviews.


5          Commenting on this year’s festival, Mr Yeow Kai Chai, Festival Director, says: “The overwhelming response to last year’s Festival shows that there is a hunger for new knowledge and new ways of thinking. After last year’s celebratory tone with the SG50 fervour, we wanted this year’s theme, Sayang, to encourage everybody to reflect on what means the most to them. To that end, we have invited thought-provoking and unexpected writers and speakers across different genres, to make the Festival an exciting place to exchange ideas.”





6          This year’s international line-up caters to aficionados in different genres. Aside from Lionel Shriver and Karan Mahajan, fiction lovers can look forward to meeting Eka Kurniawan, one of the most exciting writer to emerge from South-east Asia and the first Indonesian to be long-listed for the Man Booker International 2016;  Joanne Harris, one of only four female members of the UK’s Millionaires Club; fantasy and sci-fi icon Gail Carriger (US), archaeologist and author of The Parasol Protectorate series; Taiwanese-American writer Shawna Yang Ryan; British writer Andrew Michael Hurley, who won a string of awards for his gothic masterpiece, The Loney; South African journalist-poet-writer Sabata-mpho Mokae; Ghanaian fiction writer Mamle Kabu;  China’s contemporary crime writer A Yi; feminist Taiwanese writer Li Ang; American-Irish fiction-writer Timothy O’Grady; Irish fiction writer Sara Baume; Indian feminist playwright and translator A Mangai, and avant-garde Korean writer Jung Young-Moon, among others.


7          Besides Vijay Seshadri, poetry followers can revel in the writings of American post-language poet-translator Cole Swensen (US); British poet and 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize winner Sarah Howe; Icelandic poet-writer Gerður Kristný; Malaysian performance poet-singer Fynn Jamal, and British poet Philip Terry, who updated the Shakespearean sonnet for the 21st century.


8          On the non-fiction front, people can meet the formidable American critic Marjorie Perloff, the foremost commentator on contemporary and avant-garde poetries; modern China historian Frank Dikötter (Netherlands) who will cover China’s Cultural Revolution; Jonathan Friesen, the American young-adult novelist and motivational speaker who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and will talk about the need for a society of empathy; Canadian bibliophile and intellectual Alberto Manguel, who is best known for championing the pursuit of serious reading;  and acclaimed British theatre critic Lyn Gardner. Translation also takes centrestage, with Mabel Lee (Australia), who translated Gao Xingjian; Max Lane (Australia) who translated Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and Marie Silkeberg (Sweden) who translated Inger Christensen and Susan Howe.





9          In celebration of 50 years of diplomacy between Japan and Singapore, the Festival will play host to a contingent comprising 10 Japanese writers and speakers as part of its Country Focus. Headlining the entourage are Gosho Aoyama, the creator of the manga series, Detective Conan; Taiyo Fujii, the author of the Japanese sci-fi classic Gene Mapper; Risa Wataya, the youngest-ever recipient of the Bungei Prize at 17, and the winner of the prestigious Kenzaburo Oe fiction prize; Ryoichi Wago, who rose to national prominence for a series of affecting poems on his hometown, Fukushima, which was wrecked by the 2011 nuclear disaster. Other names include musician Kojima Keitany-Love, music producer Yutaka Ito, poet-author Hiromi Kawakami, as well as editors of Monkey Business, Motoyuki Shibata and Roland Kelts (US).





10      Continuing our multi-disciplinary approach, the Festival has commissioned two new theatrical productions:

  • Between The Lines: Rant and Rave II, as helmed by The Finger Players’ Chong Tze Chien (Singapore), is a must-watch for anyone who is interested in the evolution and development of Singapore’s literature (or SingLit as it is affectionately known).
  • Siti Khalijah: An Actress Prepares, which features well-known TV and theatre actress Siti Khalijah (Singapore) who will open up on her stage roles and the roles she would like to play, in a script written by Alfian Sa’at (Singapore).


11        Music fans can get in the mood with Omar Musa, Australia’s star slam poet and rapper; and enjoy the gigs by NOISE Singapore alumni LEW, ZeeAura, Ciao Turtle and The Madhatter Project, who will perform on the lawn as part of our SWF POP series, which will also feature performance poets and readings by emerging writers.


12        Film buffs can catch several special screenings: the Palme d’Or-winning film Dheepan, with a post-show dialogue with actor-writer Shobasakthi; the documentary film Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema, accompanied by a dialogue (co-presented with UnThinkTank) with screenwriter Hsiao Yeh (Taiwan) and producer Angelika Wang Ken Yu (Taiwan); and the Utter 2016 offering, One Hour to Daylight, featuring the works of four Singapore writers reimagined into a feature-length film by producer Sinema.


13        This year also sees the launch of a new Sequential Arts focus, in recognition of the rise of graphic novelists, illustrators and cartoonists as a force to be reckoned with. Watch out for Miriam Katin (US), a Holocaust survivor, who will share her memoir of her escape from the Nazis; Mattias Adolfsson (Sweden); Chihoi (Hong Kong), Tita Larasati (Indonesia); Peter Van Dongen (The Netherlands), Sonny Liew (Singapore), Troy Chin (Singapore), Foo Swee Chin (Singapore) and Lim Cheng Tju (Singapore). SWF will also partner the Organisation of Illustrators Council for the inaugural Singapore Illustration Festival.





14        As the platform to bring South-east Asian authors to the fore, SWF will present authors who will discuss the polarities between mainstream society and marginalised communities, highlighting native tongues and rituals threatened by modernity.


15        Noteworthy authors include F Sionil Jose, the lion of Filipino literature; Malaysian fantasy writer Golda Mowe, who taps on the beliefs and practices of the Iban, an indigenous group from Borneo, in her stories; Eka Kurniawan, who confronts the history of Indonesia in his books; Malaysian 2012 Man Booker International Prize shortlistee Tan Twan Eng, who writes about forgetting and memory in the shadow of the Second World War in Malaysia; and Tash Aw (Malaysia), who was long-listed for the  Man Booker Prize in 2013.





16        Altogether there are over 240 Singaporean and Singapore-based authors at this year’s SWF – comparable to last year.


17        Award winners include Epigram Fiction Prize winner O Thiam Chin, Singapore Literature Prize winners Desmond Kon, Sithuraj, Josephine Chia, Sonny Liew, Cyril Wong, and Yong Shu Hoong. The festival will also be working with Berita Harian to showcase the crème de la crème of the Singapore Malay literary scene in a variety show, Malam Lawak Sastera (Literary Comedy Night) as well as present this year’s Literary Pioneers, highlighting the groundbreaking works of authors including Maarof Salleh, Suratman Markasan, Mohamed Yusoff Abdul Rahman, and Ab Hamid Bin Besih.


18        For the first time, the Festival also features a non-English-commissioned work for SWF, written and performed by literary mother-daughter duo Noor Hasnah Adam, award-winning poet and writer, and Nur Aisyah Liyana, budding short story writer, who wrote on the festival theme, ‘Sayang'. Farish Noor will give a lecture on the etymology of the word ‘Sayang too. And don’t miss critic-poet-comic artist Gwee Li Sui, and poet and essayist Boey Kim Cheng who will give a joint-lecture on the topic of Unwritten Country.





19        Introduced last year, the Festival’s refreshed format comprises five festival tracks that will guide festival-goers through the two-week event. Audiences will be treated to a slew of experiential programmes inspired by the written word and beyond – from interactive theatre to film screenings. Please refer to Annex A for more details.





20        Festival Passes and tickets are available via SISTIC at Early bird sales begin 6 September 2016 and will end 30 September 2016, and will entitle buyers to a 20% discount.


21        Ticketing details and updates are available at, and


22        For more information, please read on:

  • ANNEX A – Singapore Writers Festival 2016 Festival Tracks
  • ANNEX B – Singapore Writers Festival 2016 Festival Pass Highlights
  • ANNEX C – Singapore Writers Festival 2016 Ticketing Information