Over a cup of tea

This special issue of Newzzit is focussed on Singapore Writers Festival. We recommend you read it cover-to-cover in order of stories to get a feel of the entire festival. We have tried to put the entire issue as one single narrative. 

Closing debate at SWF: This house computes that Singaporeans are illiterate robots?

Closing debate at SWF: This house computes that Singaporeans are illiterate robots?

French philosopher Rene Descartes famously proclaimed, “I think, therefore I am.”

Similarly, if the recently concluded 10-day Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) had to summarised in one sentence, it would be - we write, therefore we are. The intelligentsia, academics, writers, poets, playwrights, authors, and participants of all ages - young and old, almost everyone while expressing concerns for the country's perceived declining interest in literature, hoped for things to turn.

Contrary to all clichés associated with Singapore, that it is very materialistic country which only cares about 5 C's – cash, car, credit card, condominium and country club; SWF painted a very different picture of Singapore and Singaporeans.

It showed that like any other society, Singaporeans appreciate good theatre, books and poetry; are emotionally connected to their heritage, love eating food [though not so much cooking it]; have fun talking in Singlish; and above all, they know how to laugh at themselves. Aside, Singaporeans would also want more open discussion about politics and the role media plays in their country.

The festival, which ran from November 1 to 10, started with a panel debating whether Singapore's literary scene is still in “dark ages” waiting for a “renaissance” to unfold, and ended with a debate on whether Singaporeans are “illiterate robots”.

Publishers such as Goh Eck Kheng, owner of Landmark Books, called on the local publishing companies to invest more and more in budding local writers; Alfian Sa'at, resident playwright with Wild Rice in Singapore, called on his fellow writers to come up with local stories which connects with Singaporeans emotionally; and Jennifer Crawford, assistant professor of the creative writing programme at the Nanyang Technological University, talked about ways on dealing with “cultural cringe” that she sees in her local students.

Hearteningly, when Eleanor Wong, writer of the trilogy – Invitation to treat, as well as - The campaign to confer the public star on JBJ, asked the gathering whether they would be willing to pay more to support local talents, majority supported the idea.

Some serious concerns were expressed too. Not having enough full-time local writers and only four local publishers who are willing to invest in literary creations, are some of them, Goh noted.

Almost everyone agreed that the education system in Singapore is not “literature-friendly”. Shamini Flint, Malaysian-born writer of the Inspector Singh crime novels, shared how focus on grades and numbers is making children “an unhappy lot” in Singapore. Edmund Wee, founder of Epigram Books, while talking about higher education informed that the percentage of students studying English literature in National University of Singapore (NUS) has dropped to 1% in recent years.

But this needn’t be a cause of worry as students may just be shunning literature because of its low-mark scoring potential, and not necessarily due to waning interest,” argued Kevin Tan, adjunct professor of law at NUS. Oniatta Effendi, lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic, also cautioned not to confuse the system with people. “We are evolving as a literary nation with local subject matters screaming at us,” she said.

Regarding the perception that Singaporeans generally don't express their views openly, Wong differed. “That's a lot to do with our history during the nation-building era post-independence. But now things have changed. And SWF is a great example of that,” she said.

On the last day of the event, festival director, Paul Tan, added a note of optimism that it is a “sign of good things to come when all Singaporeans are coming together, raising issues and sharing concerns”. He told Newzzit that it has been a tiring but a wonderful experience. “SWF over the years has evolved into a platform where the entire talent spectrum of Singapore converges.”

On the issue of censorship, Marc Nair, an active poetry slammer who released his new collection, Post Code, during the SWF said, “While its true that there are few issues – religious, political and social, which are no-touch areas, it also helps you to focus more on what you are allowed to do. Personally, none of my creative works have been vetted ever.”

With newer talents shining bright, and authorities evolving their role towards literature - from controlling to a more supportive one, the local literary scene is up and vibrating.

Looking forward to next year's edition of SWF eagerly now!



Few videos from SWF