My First Time... Attending The Singapore Writers Festival
As a writer by trade, you would think I’d attend the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) every year. But until this week, I never bothered. Firstly because I’m a homebody, secondly because I don’t have many friends who’d be interested in going, and thirdly because I was afraid that the supposedly chim lectures would go over my head. I haven’t attended literary events since I was in university, and goodness knows that between my TikTok addiction and a general lack of academic stimulation, my brain is not what it used to be.
But after spending the last couple of years grappling with writer’s block, I was ready to try anything to reignite the flames of inspiration. And at just $30 for a Festival Pass, SWF is much more affordable than a writer’s retreat or a writing workshop.IMAGE: ARTS HOUSE LIMITED
A quick guide to the Singapore Writers Festival
Organised by Arts House Limited, SWF gathers local, regional, and international writers in one place to hold readings, panels, performances, workshops, and more activities over 10 days. Not only is it one of the few multilingual literary festivals in the world, but every year, there’s a different theme - this year’s is Plot Twist, a celebration of the unpredictable.
Book lovers can also look forward to a lineup of literary stars. Past panelists have included Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman, and Margaret Atwood, who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. This year’s featured speakers include Chinese-Australian young adult novelist Ann Liang (if you liked Jenny Han’s To All The Boys series, you’ll probably enjoy her stuff); Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen; and Prince collaborator Susan Rogers, the sonic architect behind some of the late artiste’s biggest hits, such as “Purple Rain”.
Have I attended any of these writers’ events? No, because I’m a 🤡 who only checked the schedules at the last minute - and because Susan Rogers’ and Ann Liang’s panels haven’t taken place yet - but here’s where I’ve gone so far:
IMAGE: ARTS HOUSE LIMITED
Tools For Writing Fiction - From a Journalist’s Perspective
Getting bogged down by research while writing your novel? Run by playwright and CNBC journalist Nessa Anwar, this two-hour workshop taught us how to organise facts into a narrative. I signed up for this one because I wanted to attend a more practical event and found it interesting to see how a seasoned reporter crafts a coherent story out of a myriad of facts and figures.
IMAGE: ARTS HOUSE LIMITED
Making Space In The (Marvel) Universe: In Conversation with Fatimah Asghar, Eve L. Ewing, and Bisha K. Ali
Out of the three events I’ve attended so far, this crossover event between female Marvel writers of colour has been the most enriching. Despite not being a huge fan of comics or the superhero genre, I enjoyed hearing how they’ve wrestled with the burden of representation while working for a conglomerate as big as Disney. How do you tell the stories you want to tell while being true to the characters’ legacy, and while dealing with pressure from the studio? The panel was an hour long and I was sorry to see it end.
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Do We Need Memoirs in the Age of Social Media?
I cabbed down on a weeknight for this panel because I figured I should attend an event with more local authors. Featuring memoirists Koh Buck Song, Dana Lam, Mahita Vas, and Robert Yeo, this panel engaged in a deep discussion on the differences between memoirs and social media - and implicit in this discussion was the question of whether the latter would ever usurp the former. As much as I enjoy hearing literary veterans dispense their wisdom, I was also a little perturbed at the lack of younger panelists. One of the panelists doesn’t use social media, while the others mostly use Facebook - and occasionally Instagram - which made the insights feel, well, a little outdated.
Tips for first-time attendees
Plan your time properly
Some events are ticketed and they sell out faster than you think. Hence my lack of attendance at Viet Thanh Nguyen’s event despite loving The Refugees. And also hence my regret at missing out on feminist philosopher Judith Butler's keynote talk, which is OOS.
Plus, many of the weekend panels take place back-to-back so be prepared to leave some of them early to catch the next one.
Attend the Festival Opening Debate next time
I found out only too late that this is usually one of the most lively events. This year’s edition saw festival speakers squaring off against ChatGPT. (Author Joshua Ip’s recap gave me major FOMO.) I'll be sure not to miss the Festival Closing Reading, where a renowned panel of poets will showcase their work.
Planning to attend on multiple days? There are a few food stalls at the entrance of The Arts House offering coffee, halal sushi bake, and pastries, but prepare snacks in case you get bored eating the same thing day after day.
Don’t forget your Festival Pass
After purchasing your Festival Pass online, you’ll need to claim a physical pass at the ticket booth and bring it for all Festival Pass events.
Prepare a large tote bag
The Festival Bookstore, located on the second floor of The Arts House, is chock full of books by featured authors and speakers! My advice is to buy what you need so that you’re ready once author signings commence.
Bring a sweater
The Arts House Chamber feels like Antarctica.
Don't worry about not understand every insight and reference
It's easy to feel a little blur and insecure listening to panelists who are so much more well-read than you are. But the SWF ultimately aims to nurture a love for literature and learning. Go in with an open mind and let it inspire you to read more intentionally.