Philip JEYARETNAM ... Singapore Writers Festival 2009
Writers: Peeping Toms of the Art World
Singaporean author PHILIP JEYARETNAM gears you up for the Singapore Writers Festival 2009 from October 24 to November 1, 2009
WRITERS ARE THE PEEPING TOMS OF THE ART WORLD: drawing back the curtains of hidden lives, checking for damp rot beneath the comfortable carpets of the bourgeoisie, and digging out secrets, heedless of shame or embarrassment. So it’s appropriate that UnderCovers is the theme of this year’s Singapore Writers Festival (SWF). Like SWF 2007, this year’s festival will enjoy the historic and comfortable setting of The Arts House, with its diverse spaces affording the itinerant sampler the opportunity to flit between an intimate reading by a literary novelist in the Blue Room, a panel discussion in the Living Room, an impassioned debate in the Chamber and a print-to-screen offering in the Screening Room.
There will be a strong focus on Malaysia, with one highlight being a symposium involving Singaporean and Malaysian authors. The Malaysian writers range from the venerable such as K.S. Maniam to the young and inspirational like Preeta Samarasan, whose Evening is the Whole Day was described as a “delicious first novel” by The New York Times. There’s room too for the much-loved Lat, whose cartoons did so much to depict and preserve an era of Malaysian life.
Singapore’s literary scene operates in several languages, and one of the aims of SWF has been to get to grips with the challenges that this poses. As a result, there will be multilingual programming to foster forays across language, and inclusion of translators in forums and discussions.
The tradition of combining SWF with the judging of the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award continues. The SPH-NAC Golden Point Award is for unpublished writers, and combining it with the festival means that visiting writers can lend their expertise and perspective to the judging of the winning entries and the winners then have a platform to read their work. For SWF, the benefit is the participation of so many aspiring writers who bring with them fresh energy and enthusiasm.
At the last SWF, the first professional symposium took place—bringing together publishers, agents and writers to discuss the business side of writing: contracts, copyright and marketing. It was a great success then, and will be repeated this year. There’s no doubt that it is a great advantage for writers to gain a better understanding of business practicalities, not so much that they then adjust how and what they write but so that they can make the most of their talents and what they want to write about.
This year also promises to have an edgier tone to it with Neil Gaiman (left) of The Graveyard Book and Coraline fame and Amanda Palmer among the writers. Palmer has earned a deserved cult following with her work in music and writing. Additionally, John Ajvide Lindqvist (right), the acclaimed author of Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead, is sure to send a chill down your spine.
Top literary talents writing in Chinese, Malay and Tamil are also set to capture the imaginations of audiences both young and old. SWF will also showcase the work of earlier generations and take a fresh look at the past with Misty Poet Duo Duo, award-winning novelist Yan Lianke and ex-journalist and media advisor, Naldo Rei.
Indeed, SWF will celebrate authors who have contributed immensely to the development of a distinct regional voice in literature, including literary pioneers and Cultural Medallion recipients Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo and Professor Wong Yoon Wah and Malaysia’s National Laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh.
It certainly promises to be an exciting nine days and I hope to see you there!
PHILIP JEYARETNAM is a Cambridge-educated lawyer and an award-winning writer whose first book, First Loves (1987), comprising nine linked stories, was on The Straits Times bestseller list for a record 18 months. He later wrote two more novels, Raffles Place Ragtime (1988), which deals with the rat race, and Abraham’s Promise (1995), which was highly commended in the 1996 NBDCS Awards. Tigers in Paradise (2004) collects both works, and include two essays on Singaporean literature in English. A senior counsel in private practice and an adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), he has been President of the Law Society since 2004.