singapore writers festival 2019

Language and identity has been discussed ad nauseam in recent weeks, most prominently around the case of Preetipls and the Nets E-Payment ad that sparked a national (and overdue, if you ask us) debate around issues of racism and brownface.

They’re also key issues at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival (SWF), now in its 22nd edition and helmed by lauded poet Pooja Nansi, who is best-known for being an outspoken critic on issues that deserve more critical scrutiny as well as starting Other Tongues, Singapore’s first minority voices literary festival.

SWF 2019’s theme is A Language of Our Own, which will explore the role of language in the expression of identities and formation of communities in the 21st century. The festival runs from November 1 – 10 in the Civic District – here are some (early) highlights:

Expect some major headliners

Jamaican author Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings and Korean-American writer Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko, a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, are among some of the key names who will be dropping by. Others include author and screenwriter Nikesh Shukla (UK), editor-at-large at
Fleurs Des Lettres Wong Yi (Hong Kong), poet and Young People’s Laureate for London Theresa Lola (Nigeria – UK), and Young Adult novelist Hanna Alkaf (Malaysia).

There’ll be a new segment catered to youths

Called the SWF Youth Fringe, its aimed at youths aged 13 – 18 to encourage earlier engagement with the literary arts and it’s a welcomed change, especially with reports of less students taking up the subject in recent years. The programme, headlined by New York Times-bestselling YA (young adult) author Nicola Joon, includes the discussion of timely topics such as as YA fiction, K-pop, zine-making, memes and text-speak as a language.

Singlish will be a key focus

Ever wondered about the difficulties involved in being a translator? (Hint: it’s not just translating word by word.) At SWF 2019, workshops and lectures will address this and many more topics, such as the versatility of Singlish (you’ll be surprised to learn that Singlish is a hot topic among linguists internationally). As one of the few multilingual literary festivals in the world, SWF will also feature cross-cultural programmes such as a Dikir Barat (a traditional Malay musical form) x rap battle performance.

Stay tuned for more details to follow in coming weeks. Meanwhile, you can get advanced passes here already. Cover image: Singapore Writers Festival Facebook