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Tuesday, Oct 28, 2014

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Singapore Writers Festival 2014 celebrates beauty in literature

The Star/ANN | Tuesday, Oct 28, 2014

Naomi Wolf (left) and Paul Theroux are among the authors appearing at the Singapore Writers Festival 2014.

This year's Singapore Writers Festival line-up includes such big names as Naomi Wolf, Paul Theroux, Raymond E. Feist and Karen Joy Fowler.

The Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) is around the corner, and this year, the focus is an uplifting one, intended to celebrate literature and beauty in their many forms.

Themed "The Prospect Of Beauty", the SWF 2014 will be on from Oct 31 to Nov 9, and features a diverse line-up of literary figures, including travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux, recent Man Booker Prize shortlisted author Karen Joy Fowler, and feminist writer and political activist Naomi Wolf.

Joining them are science fiction and fantasy author Raymond E. Feist, genre-bending writer Jonathan Lethem, and humanitarian/environmental writer Barry Lopez, as well as poets Paul Muldoon (winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry) and Robert Pinsky (three-time US Poet Laureate).

The festival also has a healthy Malaysian presence, with authors like Evelyn Rose, Lee Su Kim, Lutfi Ishak and Shih-Li Kow among the ones on the line-up. Furthermore, this year's SWF Publishing Symposium, shines a spotlight on how to crack the Malaysian book market, with panellists from various parts of the Malaysian publishing industry sharing their insights; the other market focus for the symposium this year is China.

With nearly 200 writers and over 250 events, including panel discussions, lectures and poetry readings, we thought the time was apt for a chat with festival director Paul Tan, who shares the whats, whys and hows of this year's SWF.

Could you elaborate on this year's theme? How did it come about, and what do you hope it will achieve?

This year's theme is "The Prospect of Beauty", and it is a timely reminder to reflect on, celebrate and appreciate the beauty in writing and literature, as well as in the world around us. It is partly a response to last year's theme, where we looked at "Utopia/Dystopia". We decided to have something very different, potentially light-hearted and more lyrical.

With this theme, we hope to challenge our audience's perceptions of beauty, and encourage them to explore the many faces of beauty and aesthetics. As the SWF is a platform for the exchange of ideas and opinions, we also want our audiences to think about timely and hard-hitting topics, such as the trade-offs between the environment and economic development, and society's unrealistic ideals of female beauty. I hope our audiences will be excited and engaged by frank and thoughtful discussions, and open their minds to different perspectives and possibilities.

What was the thought process behind selecting these specific authors, and how do they fit in with this year's theme?

Our programming team basically has a wish list of writers, which is also guided by this year's theme as well as our region focus on South America, and we also keep a lookout for names on the literary festival circuit. We try to bring in authors who we think will appeal to our audiences. We do our utmost to expose our audiences to a wide variety of writers, to encourage Singaporeans to read broadly. We also have a very strong Singapore focus and we want people to discover Singapore writing through our line-up of over 130 Singapore writers.

Very aptly tied to the theme, the lyrical beauty of words also inspired us to have a strong line-up of poetry events this year - from panel discussions by poets on honing their craft, to hearing from Muldoon, and a PoemJazz performance by Pinsky, for the first time in Singapore.

Other than the big names we are all likely to rush to, could you point out some specific highlights, perhaps something more left-field, that is nevertheless 'unmissable'?

The Festival features over 250 very different events in Singapore's four official languages, so I am sure there will be something for everyone. On a lighter note, look out for authors from popular genres such as women's fiction, fantasy, travel-writing, graphic novels and comics.

Just to name a few, I'd recommend audiences to look out for Lethem, who peppers his stories with bits and pieces of the "real" world, as well as the closing lecture by widely travelled author Barry Lopez titled Nature And Human Nature, where he will discuss man's often complicated relationship with the environment.

Also not to be missed are our Fringe programmes themed Truly, Madly, Deeply, which feature writers who risk their lives in pursuit of truth, justice and freedom. Particularly, the panel Truth At What Costs, where terrorism researcher Solahudin and journalist William T Vollmann discuss how they faced danger and sacrifice in their quest for truth in their writings.

Tell us more about the SWF Publishing Symposium and why China and Malaysia were selected as themes.

China obviously is the world's second biggest book industry after the US, but given the long-standing links between our countries and the common cultural backgrounds, we believe Malaysia, one of the fastest growing markets in Southeast Asia, has potential as a market for our publishers. There are also Singapore writers like O Thiam Chin and Isa Kamari who have been published by Malaysian publishers, so there will be interest from the writing community as well.

Is there anything new and different happening this year at the SWF?

For one, we have more venues and the main two pavilions are more spacious. We have also commissioned more events, such as Body X, an interactive experiential drama inspired by crime writer Keigo Higashino, as well as Agaration Of Empathy and Apart, two performances blending poetry, music and theatre that feature leading Singapore writers and artists.

The Singapore Writers Festival 2014 will be held from Oct 31 to Nov 9. Festival passes, priced at S$20, are available through SISTIC at sistic.com.sg and www.bytes.sg. For more information on the full festival programme, visit the SWF website (www.singaporewritersfestival.com) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/sgwritersfest).

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