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Why You Should Check Out The Singapore Writers Festival

I heard this line during a panel at the festival two years ago: it’s not just a festival of writers, but it’s also a festival of ideas. Before you think this is a complete geeking out, it is. But hear me out; it’s thought-provoking as it discusses the current state of the world, especially with this year’s theme – Intimacy. Read on to find out Tropika Club’s take on this year’s Singapore Writers Festival.


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A Most Unusual Year

The festival would usually take over the entirety of The Arts House at Raffles Place. Festival Director Pooja Nansi set out to do just that for this year as well. But as the realities of the pandemic surfaced in February this year, her team realised they needed a contingency. By April, they had to pivot to a completely digital edition.

So, instead of a splendid affair filled with stately speeches and readings on their Opening Night, it was just a Youtube live stream event. It began with a speech by Member of Parliament Low Yen Ling. Afterwards, there was just this easy conversation between writer and editor Mrigaa Sethi and Pooja Nansi, who was even sitting cross-legged.

It is apt then, they have roped in literary giants who are so adept at making sense of our times. Liu Cixin and Zadie Smith are two major headliners. Even Margaret Atwood, who wrote the Handmaid’s Tale, now a lauded TV series, makes an appearance. They’re not short on local and regional talents too, with writers like Balli Kaur Jaswal, Glenn Diaz, and Josef Lee sharing the stage.

Explore Intimacy in Singapore Writers Festival

What can intimacy look like in a time of distance and the absence of human contact?

Even Arian Grandé’s latest album was about intimacy. Their inaugural digital edition captures the essence of what it means to live through a pandemic behind our screens. They dissect the relationships between each other, as well as our environment. All their events explore the nuances to those relationships in a year where we all are experiencing less human interaction, physical and emotional.

But they don’t forget to have fun too, especially in their hotly anticipated Closing Debate, always flanked with two teams of four very charismatic speakers. This year, This House Believes Singapore Would Survive the Zombie Apocalypse. Just imagine what’s going to debated.

To truly enjoy the full spectrum of panels, lectures, screenings, and more across Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, get their all-access Digital Festival Pass. Some events don’t even need the Festival Pass, where you could simply experience the stories on your phone or your computer. Here’s a taste of their interactive events:

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The Visitation

Created by award-winning writer Dave Chua and illustrator Xiao Yan, you play a young woman one late weekday night in this interactive short fiction. A peculiar visitors enter your room, and takes you to a different realm, would you take on the journey?

A Call Away

The project takes its inspiration from the best-seller What Gives Us Our Names, by Singaporean poet Alvin Pang. Artwave Studio brings it to life in a twist to the digital programmes for the Singapore Writers Festival.

This participatory activity will send you a package of items. Then you’ll receive a call, taking about 20 to 30 minutes, to guide you through the items, taking you through the stories that are weaving between them. 

DGNoir 1971

Inhabit the short story  ‘Noir 1971’ by Hassan Hasaa’Ree Ali with an AR app, and unravel the mystery that Ahmad Zaidi, the protagonist, has received. As you read the short story, the app takes you through some locations in Singapore River in modern times. The programme is in Malay with English subtitles. 

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There’s Even Fun for the Little Ones

Another fixture of the Singapore Writers Festival is the family-friendly workshops that will fascinate you and your curious little ones:

Furry Tales by Leia

With help from television personality David Boey and fur-friend Leia, this workshop will uncover the secret lives of pets. You’ll learn about animal adoption through animated readings of a fairy tale collection,  

The workshop will be at The Arts House, Living Room on November 7th from 1:30pm to 2:30pm.

As the workshop takes place in The Arts House, all attendees are to register here. All attendees are to use the TraceTogether mobile application or token to check-in at the venue. The festival reserves the right to refuse entry to attendees who do not have the TraceTogether mobile application or token.

Grace, the Girl on Wheels

If you prefer to stay home, tune into this storytelling show produced by Act 3 Theatrics. Grace travels by wheelchair since she can’t walk. Her best friend decides to take her on a walk, but they soon face a host of obstacles. Find out how they overcome them in this programme for children of all ages on Youtube.

Books To Life

Another stay-at-home activity, Books to Life is a series of workshops that empowers your child to think deeper about the story they encounter in their lives. Through interactive storytelling sessions, and a drama workshop afterwards, your child can explore the themes of the stories and think about what it means to who they are.

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My Experience with Singapore Writers Festival 2020

Just the evening this past Monday night, I caught the first event at the festival – Ctrl + Shift: Reclaim Your Writer Journey. I was making instant noodles in my pyjamas as I listened to fellow curious souls dissecting their journey through writing. Moderated by local author Suffian Hakim, it featured accomplished South Asian writers Hafiz JelirErni Aladjai, and Aditi Rao.

It wasn’t smooth sailing from the get-go. Sometimes I could only hear parts of what the writers said, as they were cut off by the unstable internet connection. Suffian’s even disappeared around halfway through the panel, coming back only after ten minutes or so. You’d expect the energy to dip a little, especially when everything is only on a computer.

And yet, the three guests on the panel kept the conversation going. Hafiz kept the ball rolling as Suffian switched to a better connection. Even the interruptions in internet connections somehow made it even more intimate. I was making my dinner as the interruptions happened. So it felt like I had left the living room, where I imagine the conversation is, and only returning after I’ve made my food. This weaving in and out between their stories and my life – it feels like the very definition of intimacy.

In another instance, I was listening to the conversation between playwright/performer Joel Tan and Zadie Smith. I had read Swing Time by Zadie Smith before, and it occurred to me it was the first time I’ve ever heard her speak. And it was so bracing to have her calm, steady voice fill up my living room while I made instant coffee for the afternoon. After all, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to hear from the writers we know.

So take a few hours off your week and spend it on the Singapore Writers Festival. I hope you find fresh perspectives there.

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A curious wanderlust at heart, Benedict is always out to explore the world around him, and share his discoveries.