The 15th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival came to a successful conclusion on Sunday (Nov 11) after the closing debate in the festival pavilion.
The raucous debate’s motion was ‘Sinking roots here is little more than shopping and eating.’ The debate’s participants included aunty killer Adrian Tan, Gwee Li Sui, Lye Kah Cheong, the ‘Return to a SexyIsland’ writer Neil Humphreys, Ovidia Yu and Zizi Azah. The views in the discussion ranged from the flippant to the intellectual and the speakers dissected the Singapore identity with complete chutzpah. Nothing was spared: Singlish, cheap foreign workers, low birth rate, the Singaporean obsession with makan and shopping, the Chinese expats’ love affair with condos, the Indian expats’ penchant for everything East Coast, the Ang Moh’s passion for the OrchardTowers, the variety of sex scandals in the city and the set ways of politics in Singapore. The audience lapped the humour up and blew the roof off of the festival tent with applause and mirth.
Closing the festival, Paul Tan, the festival director, characterized this year’s debate as tongue-in-cheek, ‘colourful’ and a bit ‘off colour’ too. In his remarks, he thanked all local and foreign writers who participated in the festival and applauded the audience for their support, despite the rain and bad weather, adding that he refused to apologise for the rains as it was an act of God.
In parting, he encouraged the attendees to support local writers. “If you don’t buy the books of our local writers, who will?” said Tan. He said that he looked forward to audience support next year and promised that the future festivals will be a mix of order and chaos just like this year’s.
Following the debate, the participating writers of the festival had a two-hour long closing party where they interacted with each other and their fans. Kinokuniya bookstore offered a special 20 percent discount for all the books on display on the last day.
A successful festival
Over the years, the Singapore festival has been growing in size and prestige. This year more than 150 local writers and 50 international writers participated in the event. Some of the top literary draws this year were American author Michael Cunningham, Taiwanese author Huang Chun-ming, Booker Prize-shortlisted author Jeet Thayil and globetrotting travel writer and novelist Pico Iyer.
Some of the sessions this year were so well-attended that there was not even standing room for some disappointed attendees. Snaking queues of autograph hunters were seen for authors like Cunningham and Iyer.
The topics discussed in the festival were not just literary. The heat of political debate marked the sessions of Catherine Lim, Marina Mahathir and Cherian George. Veteran journalist P N Balji and George talked about his (George’s) new book on mainstream media in Singapore, Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore and discussed how the mainstream media had become less relevant because of the arrival of the new media. However, the mainstream media still played an important role and the OB markers for Singapore media have become more flexible, the two panelists claimed.
The festival accommodated nearly 200 panels, and the issues that were discussed ranged from culture, sports, food, crime, media and politics to sex. There were also a few panels that highlighted the Arab literature and what was happening in that part of the world. Lilia Labidi of Tunisia, political cartoonist Khalil of Iran-US, and Hisham Bustani of Jordan talked at length about the Arab Spring and presented a very optimistic picture of the region’s future. Referring to the Arab movements for freedom, Khalil said that ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ and it is very difficult to set the clock back—the people in Arab have awakened.