December 5, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Joel Tan

2 min read

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Joel TanLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Generally, I think better, clearer, more sharply and more vigorously when I write. I spend my non-writing time in a haze of distraction, boredom and anxiety, but when I write I am immediately more confident and I see and express things with greater clarity and excitement. Sometimes I think I access who I really am through writing, or rather reach out towards the possibility of becoming something bigger and better than I am.

The seed of each play I write is always something that gnaws away at me and seizes my imagination and refuses to let go until I get it out of my system. Sometimes it’s a very funny setup that I want to share with people. Often, it’s irritation or anger; a need to address something in my life or in the world. Sometimes writing starts as a scab-like patch of melancholy in my mind that I need to pick away at until the fleshy wetness underneath becomes open to the air.

Tell us about your most recent play or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I most recently put up a second staging of a play called Mosaic about four young Singaporeans at an old 80s playground that’s about to be demolished. In that play, like many of my plays, I was trying to access something about life in Singapore. Like a texture or feeling or specific set of textures and emotions: absence, letting go, not knowing where to go; things that I think come into acute relief here.

There’s something about living in this city that disturbs me on a deep, hard-to-place level and I’ve been trying to get at it with each play I write. Sometimes I get close, sometimes not so close. Lately, I’ve been nursing an impulse to write a play about Singapore and the natural world. A lot of things—encounters with some contemporary Singapore art that has a lot to do with nature, my own sudden longing for green spaces in the city, my love of food and plants—have led me to it. I think there is something fundamental about the way we relate (or don’t relate) to nature that exposes some truth about the way we live as a society. I want to investigate it.

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