Under the festival theme of “A Language of Our Own”, SWF returns with a  line-up of literary heavyweights to explore language and its role in making sense of the world.





SINGAPORE, 3 September 2019 – The 22nd annual Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) returns this November with the theme “A Language of Our Own”. This edition  seeks to examine the role of languages in the formation of identities and communities at a time when the world is becoming increasingly globalised, yet fractured. The exciting line-up of literary events will feature a host of influential writers from both Singapore and overseas. Organised by the National Arts Council (NAC), SWF will be held from 1-10 November 2019 at the Civic District.




2          With a new festival director on board, the theme this year gives a nod to those of the three preceding years – Sayang, Aram and 界 (jiè). These expressions, in Singapore’s non-English official languages of Malay, Tamil and Chinese respectively, referenced concepts of  love, virtue and the world at large. This year, the theme invites authors and the audience to reflect what they might consider when talking about different types of language, including Singlish and emojis, and how as systems of communications, languages have both the power to create a sense of belonging and to also cause displacement. Some of these programmes include the “Words We Love” series which will examine four words and phrases Singaporeans love and the richness of meaning they offer, and “Chatbots and the Human Connection” which will explore what chatbot research shows about society’s language habits.


3          Festival director, Pooja Nansi, says: “Language allows us to navigate through an increasingly complex and multi-faceted world. This year’s theme invites audiences to reflect on how language can be used to rethink existing social models and evolve to accommodate the changing tides of our present. We hope to spark conversations around the importance of language in the formation of our sense of self and community, and in turn, how language can foster a more inclusive society in a culturally and linguistically diverse Singapore.”




4          This edition will see literary heavyweights from around the world, some of whom are featured for the first time in Asia, headlining the festival (more details in Annex C), such as:


Roxane Gay (US)

Born in Omaha, Nebraska to a family of Haitian descent, Roxane Gay is the author of The New York Times best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist (2014). She has also been named as a writer for Marvel Comics’ World of Wakanda, making her the first Black woman, alongside Yona Harvey, to be lead writers for Marvel. Much of her work lies in the fiction and creative non-fiction genres, and deals with the analysis and deconstruction of feminist and cultural issues. As a headliner, Gay’s work speaks strongly to the festival’s focus on redressing the ways in which we use language and its effects on diversity and inclusion.


Roxane Gay will be speaking at the Festival Gala about Language and The Body alongside Singaporean playwright Joel Tan and Canadian novelist Kagiso Leseho Molope. She will also be presenting a lecture on Identity and Pop Culture, and participating in the “In A Tiny Room” series.


Marlon James (Jamaica)

Marlon James is the author of four novels: John Crow's Devil, The Book of Night Women, A Brief History of Seven Killings, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, and Black Leopard, Red Wolf (which has been referred to as the African Game of Thrones). Now living in Minneapolis, James teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Often his novels display the struggle to find an identity.


He will be delivering the Festival Prologue, as well as participating in the “In a Tiny Room” series where festival-goers will have the opportunity to interact with renowned authors in the casual, intimate setting (50 pax only) of The Old Man – a Hemingway inspired bar at Keong Saik.


Min Jin Lee (Korea – US)

Min Jin Lee is the author of Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko, a National Book Award finalist. She is the recipient of fiction fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She is working on American Hagwon, the final installment of The Koreans trilogy, and will be a Writer-in-Residence at Amherst College from 2019-2022.


She will be speaking at “An Hour With: Min Jin Lee” on her novel, Pachinko, about the intricacies of being a perceived outsider and the power of fiction in bridging cultures.


Pico Iyer (UK)

Pico Iyer, born in Oxford, England, has been writing books since 1986. He is an essayist and novelist, best known for his travel writing. Having grown up a part of – and apart from – English, American and Indian cultures, he became one of the first writers to make the international airport itself as his subject, along with associated topics of jet lag, displacement and cross-culturalism. He also publishes regularly in Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and other publications.


He will be speaking at “Beyond Borders, Beyond Words” and “Untold Stories of Places”, and participating in the “SWF Book Club”, a conversation inviting festival writers to talk about the books that changed their thought about language.




5          This year’s festival allows festival-goers to navigate through integral topics at the heart of the theme explored at SWF. These topics invite festival-goers to immerse themselves in contemporary issues such as feminism, language and its evolution in the future, and the use of language in a multilingual society.


6          The ever popular Festival Debate is back and has now been moved to a weeknight after working hours, inviting festival-goers to join an all-female line-up chaired by Ashley Fifty to discuss if men’s involvement in feminism helps or hurts the cause.


7          SWF 2019 brings to festival-goers the SWF Roundtables – a series of conversations that connects audiences with writers in an informal setting to examine a variety of issues surrounding craft, process and all the burning questions audiences have. This programme will feature prominent names across genres, such as translator, Shelly Bryant, novelist Suchen Christine Lim, film critic John Lui and poet and former festival director Yeow Kai Chai.


8          SWF 2019 also introduces the Festival Gala, a new format that invites speakers to each speak on a topic for 15 sustained minutes, as opposed to the regular conversational mode of a panel discussion. Featuring acclaimed writers and well-known figures such as Roxane Gay, Joel Tan and Kagiso Lesego Molope, the Gala seeks to bridge speakers and audiences together in topics relevant to our society today.




9          This year, SWF will be extending its reach to youths aged 13 - 18 with a new festival focus. The SWF Youth Fringe is in line with the Council’s efforts to nurture early engagement with the literary arts. Organised in partnership with the Singapore Book Council, several events at the SWF Youth Fringe will be curated by a panel of Youth Curators from a number of schools including Temasek Junior College and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. The programme includes the discussion of topics and genres youth are interested in such as Young Adult (YA) fiction, K-drama, zine-making, memes and text-speak as a language. It will be headlined by Nicola Yoon (Jamaica - US), a New York Times-bestselling author whose YA novels, The Sun is Also a Star and Everything, Everything have been adapted into movies.


10        Along with this, SWF 2019 presents the Youth Pass to youths aged 18 and below, providing them access to more than 100 Festival Pass events, unless in the case of an advisory, at a subsidised price of $15.




11        Celebrating SingLit: As part of the Council’s efforts to cultivate and deepen public appreciation of Singapore literature, as well as to create an awareness of an existing Singaporean literary canon, the festival will be honouring Rex Shelley as its Literary Pioneer this year. Falling in line with the Eurasian Association’s 100th year anniversary, the life and work of the Eurasian author, winner of the prestigious S.E.A. Write Award in 2007, will be celebrated through festival programmes including a multi-media exhibition by Brian Gothong Tan titled “Rex Shelley: The Gentle Observer”, and a late-night event inspired by his seminal work, The Shrimp People. The Arts House will play host to a Eurasian wedding party while artists will be taking over rooms in the Arts House and reinterpreting lines from Shelley’s novels through their own work. Programmes include “Jinkli Nona Redux” by Edith Podesta and “Encrypting Kinships” by Bani Haykal.


12        Festival Prologue and Epilogue: These two keynote speeches open and close the festival. Man Booker prize winner, Marlon James will be delivering the Festival Prologue on the power of language and stories in exploring concepts of diversity and representation. The Festival Epilogue will be delivered by critically-acclaimed Singaporean playwright, Haresh Sharma, on languages and literature, as well as the importance of multiculturalism in Singapore as also seen through his body of work.


13        Southeast Asian Focus: The festival continues to provide a platform for the promotion of Southeast Asian literature and literary talents to a wider audience, with a dedicated series of panels and talks that profile Southeast Asian writers and their works. Topics of discussion include postcolonial insights on Malay literature, art and visual culture in Southeast Asia, the challenges and triumphs faced while working in cross-cultural collaborations across Southeast Asia, and the indigenous language and culture of Sarawak, which will be showcased in a performance by Nading Rhapsody, an avant-garde ethnic Bornean ensemble.


14        There will also be cross-cultural programming such as a Malay-English bilingual event that celebrates Malay literary masters in the Nusantara region, a bilingual wayang kulit performance by Unggun Creative where traditional Malay folklore is retold with a contemporary twist, and a performance and reading entitled “A Spotlight on Indigenous Voices, which features some of the festival’s best international performers and spoken word poets from places such as Canada’s First Nations and Minang Kabau.


15        SWF and Technology: SWF will be incorporating the use of technology in their programmes in order to create more multi-faceted experiences for audience members, and reach out to new audiences. SWF will be collaborating with Kult Studio and Gallery on an immersive installation that will use analog and interactive digital elements to explore the evolution of texting as a language. In addition, the Literary Pioneer exhibition moves away from a physical exhibition and will be presented as a digital exhibition with an online component to extend the exhibition beyond the 10 days of SWF.


16        Language Tracks: As one of the few multi-lingual literary festivals in the world, SWF will feature programmes across Singapore’s official languages – English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, allowing attendees from the different language communities to participate in SWF. Singlish, a key part of Singaporean identity, and even digital language such as texting and our usage of emojis, will also be included in featured language tracks “Words We Love”, which celebrates the everyday vernacular of Singaporeans, and “TXT TLK <3”, an immersive installation that explores the evolution of texting as a language.


17        Other programmes for the track include a session with renowned writers Teo Kok Keong (张国强), Wong Koi Tet (黄凯德) and Wong Yi (黄怡), entitled “Invisible Cities: Memory and Fiction”, which examines the relationship between the city and one’s memory of it, a conversation with Farihan Bahron as the moderator that highlights the passion and endeavour required in producing literary work, and a workshop with acclaimed Tamil poet Isai who will guide aspiring Tamil poets in using humour as a tool in crafting socio-cultural poems.




18        This year’s Country Focus is Canada – a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-racial country that draws many parallels with Singapore. The pertinent issues of immigration, and cultural and linguistic diversity in both countries also resonate with the festival theme, and allow for a rich exchange of ideas.


19        SWF welcomes ten highly acclaimed Canadian writers to the festival this year. They include Chelene Knight, a poet and creative non-fiction writer of the memoir Dear Current Occupant, which won the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and Kamal Al-Solaylee, a Yemeni-born journalist and author of Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone) and Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes.


20        “We are thrilled that Canada is the Country of Focus for this year’s SWF and we look forward to having our Canadian writers engage with Singapore’s passionate literary audiences,” shared H.E. Lynn McDonald, High Commissioner of Canada in Singapore. “‘A Language of Our Own’ is a theme that resonates strongly with Canada: like Singapore, we celebrate our rich linguistic and cultural diversity as a source of strength and a fundamental part of our Canadian identity. The 10 Canadian writers who will participate in SWF this year are a true representation of our country’s literary talent and our unique multi-cultural mosaic.  We look forward to deepening our mutual understanding and appreciation of the power of language to promote inclusion through the meaningful programmes offered at SWF this year.”




21        Early-bird tickets are available from 5 till 30 September via SISTIC. All early-bird tickets will be sold at 20% discount, including the Festival Pass at S$20 (regular price S$25). The Youth Pass is available at S$15. Festival Pass and Youth Pass holders also enjoy 20% discount on all other SWF events that are ticketed separately. Ticketing details are available at www.singaporewritersfestival.com and www.facebook.com/sgwritersfest.




For more information, please refer to soft-copy versions of:

·         ANNEX A – Singapore Writers Festival 2019 Festival Programme Highlights

·         ANNEX B – Singapore Writers Festival 2019 Fact Sheet – Ticketing Information

·         ANNEX C – Singapore Writers Festival 2019 Participating Writers/Artists and Bios


High-res images of authors can be accessed from this link. Photo captions are of authors’ names unless otherwise stated.