Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val opens this week­end

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - LIL­LIAN KALISH l.kalish@mm­times.com

LIKE the pass­ing of rainy sea­son in many South­east Asian cities, sayang – a Malay term of en­dear­ment – leaves a bit­ter­sweet taste on the palate, a feel­ing of both love and loss. In its 19th edi­tion, run­ning from Novem­ber 4 to 13, the Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, a mul­ti­lin­gual and in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ing of writ­ers, poets, artists and mu­si­cians, brings this no­tion of sayang to the lit­er­ary fore­front, beg­ging read­ers and writ­ers alike to pon­der this fleet­ing ten­der­ness to­gether.

Orig­i­nally founded as a bi­en­nial fes­ti­val in 1986, the Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val be­came an an­nual fes­ti­val in 2011 show­cas­ing the best South­east Asian lit­er­ary tal­ents. With each pass­ing year, the fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers strive to in­clude a greater di­ver­sity of both Sin­ga­porean and South­east Asian writ­ers in ad­di­tion to high­light­ing the lit­er­ary achieve­ments of artists around the globe.

“The Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val has be­come known for its eclec­tic and in­clu­sive pro­gram­ming and be­ing a place for an ex­change of ideas,” said Sin­ga­porean poet and Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val direc­tor Yeow Kai Chai. “We con­tin­u­ously make a con­certed ef­fort to in­vite writ­ers from dif­fer­ent cul­tural and lin­guis­tic back­grounds, and who have dif­fer­ing points of view on var­i­ous topics.”

Though this year’s guid­ing theme is sayang, a term found not only in Malay but in Ta­ga­log and Sun­danese lan­guages, the fes­ti­val in­ter­na­tion­alises sayang with a va­ri­ety of lec­tures, work­shops, read­ings, and ac­tiv­i­ties cov­er­ing topics as di­verse as the refugee cri­sis in Europe, the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and the Fukushima nu­clear dis­as­ter.

Among the writ­ers ex­plor­ing this theme is Myan­mar’s very own in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned poet and vis­ual artist, Maung Day, the third Myan­mar writer to ap­pear in the Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val line up. Maung Day will ap­pear in one read­ing and two pan­els, shar­ing his work on love and art in dif­fer­ent medi­ums.

Be­fore the elect­ing of the NLD, the Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val hosted two other Myan­mar poets: Myay Hmone Lwin in 2015, who sits on the board of direc­tors for PEN Myan­mar, and Maung Pyiyt Min in 2012, whose work is fea­tured in Ko Ko Thet and James Byrne’s an­thol­ogy of con­tem­po­rary Myan­mar po­etry, Bones Will Crow.

Myan­mar lit­er­a­ture, much like South­east Asian lit­er­a­ture, is hav­ing a mo­ment. English trans­la­tions and greater open­ing of these coun­tries gov­ern­ments make this re­gion’s lit­er­ary cul­ture more ac­ces­si­ble to a global au­di­ence.

“No fig­ure in the South­east Asian lit­er­a­ture scene has won the No­bel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture yet,” said Yeow Kai Chai. “But we are glad to see an in­crease of writ­ers from this re­gion short­listed for the Man Booker Prize in re­cent years.”

In 2014, nov­el­ists writ­ing in English and pub­lished in the UK be­came el­i­gi­ble for the Man Booker Prize.

Though no No­bel Prize win­ners will grace the stage this year, 2014 Pulitzer Prize win­ner for po­etry Vi­jay Se­shadri will give a read­ing, par­tic­i­pate in a panel about cul­tural iden­tity, and lead a class­room se­ries about his prize- win­ning col­lec­tion, 3 Sec­tions, in­spired by his ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing in the fish­ing in­dus­try in the Pa­cific North­west.

The fes­ti­val’s in­ter­na­tional big names in­clude Amer­i­can writer, Lionel Shriver, who made waves across artis­tic and ac­tivist cir­cles at the Bris­bane Writ­ers Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber when she crit­i­cised, to the praise of some and dis­dain of many others, the con­cept of “cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion” – a so­cial jus­tice term de­lin­eat­ing own­er­ship of cul­ture, and call­ing to ques­tion who has a right to tell cer­tain sto­ries or ex­plore cer­tain cul­tures.

Other well-known writ­ers in­clude Hawai­ian writer Hanya Yanag­i­hara, whose 2015 work A Lit­tle Life in­ter­twines the lives of a quar­tet of gay men and is a hor­ri­fy­ing ex­plo­ration of sex­ual and phys­i­cal abuse, Bri­tishNige­rian writer He­len Oyeyemi whose col­lec­tion of short sto­ries What Is Yours Is Not Yours has re­ceived crit­i­cal ac­claim, and Chi­nese avant-garde fic­tion writer Can Xue, who will ap­pear in a se­ries of Chi­nese-lan­guage pan­els on ex­per­i­men­tal writ­ing.

In ad­di­tion to read­ings from local and in­ter­na­tional writ­ers, the fes­ti­val is also home to a se­ries of per­for­mances such as the open­ing night’s “Be­tween the Lines: Rant and Rave II”, de­scribed by the SWF pro­gram guide as “a love let­ter to SingLit” by play­wright Chong Tze Chien.

The sec­ond week­end of the fes­ti­val finds a mul­ti­lin­gual per­for­mance called “Cache”, with Sin­ga­porean and Chi­nese poets Jen­nifer Anne Cham­pion and Tan Chee Lay, Malay writer Hassan Hassa’Ree Ali pair­ing up with dream pop band enec.e and mu­sic trio SA.

Though Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val is by name for writ­ers, the or­gan­is­ers ev­i­dently see “writ­ing” as a broad term en­com­pass­ing all of the mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary gen­res of ex­pres­sion and a tes­ta­ment to the in-be­tween state of sayang.

“This re­gion pos­sesses some of the most colour­ful di­alects,” said Yeow Kai Chai speak­ing to the English, Chi­nese, Tamil, and Malay-lan­guage events.

“Com­ing up with a fes­ti­val theme that is ap­pli­ca­ble to lit­er­ary works across cul­tures can be quite chal­leng­ing at times, but every time we find that one uni­ver­sal but­ton to push, such as sayang for this year, that sense of ac­com­plish­ment can be very re­ward­ing.”

The Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val runs from Novem­ber 4 to 13 in Sin­ga­pore at a se­ries of venues close to the Na­tional Gallery of Sin­ga­pore. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit sin­ga­porewrit­ers­fes­ti­val.com

Photo: AFP

Men play sepak takraw in front of a mu­ral that reads “We were born in the reign of King Rama 9”, re­fer­ring to the late Thai King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, known as the ninth king of the cur­rent Chakri dy­nasty in Bangkok.

Photo: Face­book/SWF

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