December 5, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Literary News: “Archipelago Dreaming”: 5th Singapore Literature Festival in NYC

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Singapore Unbound, an NYC-based literary non-profit, is holding its 5th Singapore Literature Festival from October 6-8, 2022, for its fifth edition.


This year’s festival seeks “that utopian point, at which all the cultures of the world, all the imaginations of the world can meet and understand each other without being dispersed or lost.”

(Édouard Glissant) 

Still from Festival Preview Video “Suap Lidah, or French Kiss”

New York, NY – Singapore Unbound, an NYC-based literary non-profit, is holding its 5th Singapore Literature Festival from October 6-8, 2022. For its fifth edition, this independent, biennial festival brings together authors from the Southeast Asian and Caribbean archipelagos for lively readings and conversations about literature and society. To be held mostly at the People’s Forum (320 W 37th St, NY, NY), events are free and open to everyone. The theme this year is “Archipelago Dreaming.” 

“What kinds of writing answer Édouard Glissant’s call for archipelagic thinking? That counter the confining boundedness of nationalistic imaginations but do not play into the hands of global capital? What kinds of movement or development will enrich all lives, and not just some at the expense of others? The Festival poses these momentous questions and invites featured writers to answer them,” explained Jee Leong Koh, Organizer, Singapore Literature Festival in NYC. 

Festival highlights 

Timely, Stimulating Topics 

The festival is bookended by a pair of important talks. The Opening Address “Islands on the Road” by award-winning poet Anthony Vahni Capildeo examines Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival to infer 

models for literary creativity. The Closing Address “Free Speech in an Unequal World” by media scholar Cherian George considers why developing norms of public discourse for a diverse planet has proven so difficult. 

Two Continents, One Open Mic 

Over a live link, Advocate of Wordz (Nuyorican Poets Cafe) and Stephanie Dogfoot (Spoke & Bird) co-present a thrilling line-up of spoken word artists from both New York and Singapore. 

Engaging Panels and Programs 

Specially commissioned for the festival, the video work “Suap Lidah, or French Kiss” by Singaporean artists ila and bani hakyal explores the intimacies of gestures and the ambiguities of translation. Look out also for the panel discussion of “Diasporic Poetics” with Timothy Yu, Chris Campanioni, and Nazry Bahrawi. And “Archipelagic Constellations,” a reading and discussion with writers from different parts of the South Asian diaspora. 

Please refer to Annex A for a list of Co-Presenters & Quotes, and Annex B for the Festival  Program. 

About the 5th Singapore Literature Festival in NYC (October 6-8, 2022): The flagship activity of the NYC-based literary non-profit Singapore Unbound, this independent, biennial festival is conceived and organized by a group of Singaporean and American volunteers— writers, artists, and creatives—who call New York City home. The team behind the festival: Jee Leong Koh (organizer and fundraiser); Peyton Emery (design consultant), Ally Chua (publicity consultant); Henrik Cheng (technical director); Michel Ge, Kimberley Lim, Emily von Borstel, Hong-Ling Wee, Candice Miller (events); and Tomson Tee (video). 

Annex A—Co-Presenters and Quotes 

“With ‘Archipelago Dreaming,’ Singapore Unbound celebrates the rich diversity of our shared literary heritage. We do not have to be thrown into the melting pot: instead, we can collectively revel in and appreciate the complexity and inventiveness of distinct voices and be strengthened by the knowledge of different histories. It’s a privilege to be part of such a celebration.”—John Oakes, Publisher, The Evergreen Review 

“I have admired Singapore Unbound and all its programs since it launched. It’s a joy to associate our magazine PN Review with this literary festival and to sponsor the keynote address by the incomparable Anthony Vahni Capildeo. Vahni contributes to every issue of PN Review and is an advisory editor. PN Review and Singapore Unbound have many missions in common, among them independent islands, great and small, and their independent people and poets.’—Michael Schmidt, Editor, PN Review 

“The Asian American Writers’ Workshop is honored to support and co-present the panel “Archipelagic Constellations” at the 5th biennial Singapore Literature Festival in New York City.  This conversation, which will convene South Asian scholars and writers to discuss erasures in the archive and the history of forced and voluntary migration to the Caribbean, gives us the opportunity to tackle a difficult and important subject in the spirit of Glissant’s proposed ‘archipelagic thinking.'”—Lily Philpott, Director of Programs & Partnerships, Asian American Writers‘ Workshop 

“NYU’s Postcolonial, Race and Diaspora Studies Colloquium is thrilled to once again co-host an event with the Singapore Literature Festival. The topic of Diasporic Poetics is especially timely as we consider the role of poetry and literature in transnational articulations that question ever hardening state borders and ethno-nationalist regimes. We are especially delighted to be welcoming back the festival in person after holding the 2020 event in virtual format.”—Jini Kim Watson, Associate Professor, NYU, and Co-coordinator of the Postcolonial, Race, and Diaspora Colloquium 

“Ethos Books is delighted to co-present the panel on “Re-envisioning the Epic for our Time,” featuring Hamid Roslan, Vivek Narayanan, and Jay Gao. Their works affirm the place of art in our lives; soulful thought and creative expression, perennially in short supply, are precious now as then.  Brilliant then, for the programmers of The Singapore Literature Festival in NYC, to channel fresh energies and new blood into age-old forms that have the power to instruct, inspire and move.”— KG, Publisher of Ethos Books

Annex B—Festival Program 

Friday, September 30, 2022 

[VIRTUAL] 8.00–9.30 pm ET—Suap Lidah, or French Kiss—Festival Preview Performance by ila and bani hakyal 

Moderated by festival organizer Jee Leong Koh 


Suap lidah is a colloquial term in Malay for French kiss, where the word “suap” translates to feed or feeding, and “lidah” to tongue; to give a French kiss is literally to feed someone your tongue.  Exploring translations, mistranslations, and the untranslatable, “suap lidah” is a video work that plays on the ambiguity and poetics of language and the act of translation. From the intimacies of gestures to the ambiguity of words, the work looks into the relationship between the Malay and English languages, and it thinks through what is absent, omitted, and preserved when our tongues struggle to express (and suppress) intentions, sensibilities, and habits. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 

7.00-9.00 pm ET—Opening Party—Reading by Anthony Vahni Capildeo and Laurie Stone Co-presented by The Evergreen Review 

Venue: Private home in Chelsea, NY 

By Invitation 

An evening with two brilliant writers. A Trinidadian-Scottish writer of poetry and non-fiction, Anthony Vahni Capildeo FRSL is Writer-in-Residence and Professor at the University of York, an Honorary Student of Christ Church, Oxford, and Charles Causley Trust Poet-in-Residence. Their most recent book Like a Tree, Walking was a Poetry Book Society choice and shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize. Laurie Stone is author of six books, most recently Streaming Now, Postcards from the Thing that is Happening (Dottir Press). Winner of the Nona Balakian prize in excellence in criticism from the National Book Critics Circle, she was a longtime writer for the Village Voice, theater critic for The Nation, and critic-at-large on Fresh Air

Thursday, October 6, 2022 

[VIRTUAL] 3.00-5.00 pm ET— Translation as Archipelagic Thinking—Panel Discussion with Shelley Fairweather-Vega and Kristine Ong Muslim 

Moderated by Alta L. Price 

Co-presented by Gaudy Boy 


Committed to carrying over the sense in one language to another, translation may, in fact, replace one language with another. For instance, the translation of a Chinese-language novel into English eliminates the need to learn Chinese in order to read the work. How may translation practice what Édouard Glissant calls “archipelagic thinking,” which he defines as “one that opens, one that  

confirms diversity — one that is not made to obtain unity, but rather a new kind of Relation.” 

Translators Shelley Fairweather-Vega (Amanat: Women’s Writings from Kazakhstan) and Kristine Ong Muslim (Ulirát: Best Contemporary Short Stories in Translation from the Philippines) join moderator Alta L. Price, a fellow translator, to consider this question. 

Thursday, October 6, 2022 

7.00-9.00 pm ET—Islands on the Road—Opening Address by Anthony Vahni Capildeo Moderated by Vivek Narayanan 

Co-presented by PN Review 

Venue: The People’s Forum, 320 West 37th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, NY, NY 

Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival famously are a time that the dead enjoy. They can dance among the living. But what transformations do the living manifest, on the common roads they are keeping open through fusion and conflict, commercialism and protest? Some islanders flee Carnival, even as those in the diaspora ‘return’ to the island. How to read the spaces in the dance? Capildeo draws on their experience of traditional masquerade (Fancy Sailor), to draw wisdom from the road, considering the archipelagic radiations from the figure of the masquerader, and inferring models for literary creativity. 

Friday, October 7, 2022 

3.00-5.00 pm ET—Diasporic Poetics—Panel Discussion with Timothy Yu, Anthony Vahni Capildeo, Chris Campanioni, and Nazry Bahrawi 

Moderated by Jhani Randhawa 

Co-presented by the Postcolonial, Race and Diaspora Studies Colloquium and the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU 

Venue: New York University, 244 Greene Street, NY, NY 

In Diasporic Poetics: Asian Writing in the United States, Canada, and Australia, poetry scholar Timothy Yu argues that “racialized and nationally bounded “Asian” identities often emerge from transnational political solidarities, from “Third World” struggles against colonialism to the global influence of the American civil rights movement.” As such, Asian diasporic writers develop and maintain a critical stance towards the idea of the nation-state. Joining Yu in this discussion are three poets and scholars from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, Trinidadian-Scottish poet and non-fiction writer Anthony Vahni Capildeo from the UK, Latin American poet and scholar Chris Campanioni from the US, and Malay Singaporean literary scholar Nazry Bahrawi from Singapore. 

Friday, October 7, 2022 

7.00-9.00 pm ET—Re-envisioning the Epic for Our Time—Jay Gao, Hamid Roslan, and Vivek Narayanan 

Moderated by: Dorothy Wang 

Co-presented by Ethos Books 

Venue: The People’s Forum, 320 West 37th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, NY, NY 

A dramatization of the exploits and sorrows of royalty and aristocrats, the epic seems too outdated to speak to our current realities. And yet contemporary poets find themselves drawn to it. In 

Imperium, Jay Gao reimagines radically episodes from Homer’s The Odyssey to explore forms of absolute and intimate power, whereas in After, Vivek Narayanan fractures and recomposes Valmiki’s Ramayana to show the epic’s lasting relevance. Hamid Roslan proposes in  parsetreeforestfire yet another take on a long and sustained poetic work: a constant interrogation of the reader’s own subject position. 

Saturday, October 8, 2022 

3.00–5.00 pm ET—Archipelagic Constellations: Gaiutra Bahadur, Krystal A. Sital, and Yu Mei Balasingamchow 

Moderator: Lily Philpott 

Co-presented by Asian American Writers’ Workshop 

Venue: The People’s Forum, 320 West 37th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, NY, NY 

The history of forced and voluntary migration of South Asians to the Caribbean and Malay archipelagos is marked by gaps and erasures in the official record. In Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture, Gauitra Bahadur pursues the traces of her great-grandmother who left India for Guyana as an indentured laborer, whereas in Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad, Krystal A. Sital discovers her grandmother’s and mother’s secrets only when her grandfather lapses into a coma. Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, the co-author of Singapore: A Biography, has not attempted a family history but offers some reflections on the challenges around this in Singapore’s neocolonial, Chinese-dominated society, in relation to the politics of language, race, class, and skin color. 

Saturday, October 8. 2022 

7.00-9.00 pm ET—Free Speech in an Unequal World—Closing Address by Cherian George Moderated by Yu-Mei Balasingamchow 

Venue: The People’s Forum, 320 West 37th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, NY, NY 

Human beings are better able today than ever before to create and access knowledge and ideas. Yet societies remain mired in ignorance and intolerance, causing harm to themselves and ideas. Cherian George considers why developing norms of public discourse for a diverse planet has proven so difficult. 

Saturday, October 8, 2022 

10.00–12.00 midnight ET—Two Venues One Open Mic—Hosted by Advocate of Wordz and Stephanie Dogfoot 

Co-presented by Nuyorican Poets Café 

Venues: Nuyorican Poets Café (236 E 3rd Street, New York, NY) and Crane Arab Street (148 Arab Street, Singapore) 

Singapore and New York are joined by the simultaneous, live Zoom-cast of exciting spoken-word performers from both countries. Coming at you from the famous Nuyorican Poets Café in NYC and the preeminent Singaporean open-mic series Spoke & Bird, this event is not to be missed. 


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