SINGAPORE: From its humble roots as a fringe event in the 1980s, the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) will mark a major milestone this year when it celebrates its 20th edition.
The festival, which will take place from Nov 3 to 12, will carry the theme of “Aram”, a Tamil word that roughly means “goodness” and "doing good". It is a continuation of last year’s use of a non-English theme to describe the festival, which was the Malay word "Sayang".
Organisers National Arts Council (NAC) said it will be revealing its initial roster of writers and programmes in the coming days, but it has announced Ireland as its focus country for 2017.
Festival director Yeow Kai Chai added: “We’re trying to programme a slew of events that will address the festival’s growth and evolution over the past 20 editions.”
The now-annual festival began in 1986 as a small biennial event called Writers’ Week, under what was then called the Singapore Festival of Arts.
From a handful of programmes that featured a few writers and catered mainly to a niche audience, it was revamped as the SWF in 1999. Today, it features more than 300 authors and draws audiences in the thousands – last year, 20,350 people attended the festival.
Through the years, it would eventually incorporate other less literary conventional genres, and feature bloggers, food writers, comics artists and writers, and slam poets.
Aside from being a regular event to catch Singapore’s literary giants, the festival has also been graced by notable international authors such as Sandman’s Neil Gaiman, Cloud Atlas’ David Mitchell, and travel writer Pico Iyer.
“We have literally grown with it. It’s a very big part of me as a festival-goer, a reader, a writer and now as a festival director,” said Yeow, who said they are looking to involve authors from past editions, as well as restaging previous events.
One notable personality that could make his appearance at this year’s edition is Singaporean graphic novelist Sonny Liew, who recently made history by winning three Eisner Awards for his book The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.
The organisers have confirmed that they had invited him to take part in a yet-to-be-announced programme weeks ago and are waiting for his response.
Liew, a previous festival author, was part of last year’s focus on Sequential Arts that included other graphic novelists, illustrators, and cartoonists.
On Monday (Jul 24), the NAC congratulated Liew for his Eisner victory, a couple of days after the news broke over the weekend.
On its Facebook page, the council said: “We are pleased that a Singaporean has been accorded international recognition for artistic merit. We look forward to seeing Sonny’s new works including his upcoming first venture on stage at the NAC-commissioned Singapore International Festival of Arts.”
The council did not specifically mention the title of Liew’s book in its post. In 2015, it controversially withdrew its S$8,000 grant for the book, citing “sensitive content” that breached funding guidelines.
An NAC spokesperson recently told Reuters: “A grant withdrawal is rare, and it was unfortunate that we had to take this course of action when Sonny’s novel was published."