Marlon James and Roxane Gay among Singapore Writers Festival headliners


A report by Olivia Ho for The Straits Times.

The 22nd Singapore Writers Festival will look at what it takes to have a language of one’s own, with a line-up that includes Haitian-American writer Roxane Gay, Man Booker Prize-winner Marlon James, Korean-American novelist Min Jin Lee and British-born American travel writer Pico Iyer.

More than 250 authors will appear at the annual festival organised by the National Arts Council, which will run from Nov 1 to 10 with the theme “A Language Of Our Own”.

First-time festival director Pooja Nansi said at a launch at The Projector on Tuesday (Sept 3): “We want to look at the various ways in which the theme has been explored by the most important voices of our time, or who has been doing interesting work around it that people aren’t talking about enough.”

She added: “I am excited about the focus on feminist issues and the idea of a language of our own… how women who are under-represented in the literary landscape are reclaiming language for ourselves.”

There are more than 250 programmes this year, down from 310 programmes last year. Ms Nansi, 37, said that it was a conscious decision to make the programming leaner and more targeted. “The feedback we were getting from audience members was that there were too many programmes and we had got to a point where the festival was competing with itself.”

The festival’s Singapore literary pioneer this year is the late Rex Shelley, whose works include 1991 novel The Shrimp People and who documented the culture of the Eurasian community in the 1950s and 1960s. He is the only Eurasian to have won the S.E.A. (South-east Asian) Write Award.

The Arts House will be holding a series of events around his work, including a late-night programme with the theme of an Eurasian wedding party and a multimedia installation by artist Brian Gothong Tan.

Jamaican author James, who won the Booker in 2015 for his novel A Brief History Of Seven Killings, will deliver the festival prologue while Singaporean playwright Haresh Sharma will give the epilogue.


  • WHERE: The Civic District

    WHEN: Nov 1 to 10

    ADMISSION: $25 (festival pass) and $15 (Youth Pass) from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to Separately ticketed events are $10 to $60. Early-bird tickets, including the festival pass, are available at a 20 per cent discount from Sept 5 to 30. A valid student card must be presented upon collection of the Youth Pass

    INFO: and

James and Gay, The New York Times-bestselling author of essay collection Bad Feminist (2014), will also take part in the “In A Tiny Room” series of intimate gatherings of no more than 50 people at the Ernest Hemingway-inspired cocktail bar The Old Man.

This year’s country of focus is Canada. Ten Canadian writers will appear at the festival this year, including poet Chelene Knight, Yemeni-born journalist Kamal Al-Solaylee and indigenous writer and journalist Waubgeshig Rice.

The festival will be making use of technology in its programmes and is collaborating with home-grown Kult Studio and Gallery on an immersive installation that will use analogue and interactive digital elements to explore the evolution of texting as a language. It will feature crowd-sourced text messages, which the public can contribute to.

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