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Tuesday October 22, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday October 22, 2013 MYT 8:12:28 AM
by sharmilla ganesan
Man of the hour: The Reluctant Fundamentalist author Mohsin Hamid is one of the bigger names at the Singapore Writers Festival.
The upcoming Singapore Writers Festival is bound
to have something to
satisfy every type of
WHEN it comes to literature, the terms “utopia” and “dystopia” are typically associated with the fantasy or science fiction genres. In an increasingly technology-saturated and borderless world, however, where what was once science fiction is now simply science, and fantasy is often rapidly transformed into reality, such delineations may no longer apply.
Rather, ideas on what makes a utopian or dystopian society have long permeated discussions on culture, national identity and government.
Hence, this year’s Singapore Writers Festival’s (SWF) theme, “Utopia/Dystopia”, seems quite astute, both from a marketing point of view and as a genuinely relevant area to explore. On a practical level, the theme allows the festival organisers to include, in what is perceived as a more “literary” event, more popular genres such as crime and fantasy.
As a means of making the SWF more appealing and accessible to a mainstream reading audience, the importance of such efforts cannot be undermined.
The theme, however, also gives festivalgoers the chance to partake in talks and discussions that relate the notions of utopia and dystopia to contemporary life, addressing the inherent tensions in binaries such as love-hate, war-peace, and imagination-reality.
Festival Director Paul Tan, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently to promote the SWF, says they settled on the theme after looking at it from a topic, genre and marketing point of view.
“We look at what is in trend now, and see how we can bring depth to that conversation. On one level, the concepts of utopia and dystopia are more popular than ever, in both books and movies. Having this as our theme further means I can include authors like (bestselling fantasy authors) Tracy and Laura Hickman,” he says.
“That said, Utopia/Dystopia also gives us a lot of opportunity to relate these themes to what is currently going on in society. Certainly, there is a lot of debate right now, both in Singapore and globally, about what makes a good city or country, which certainly feeds into our theme.”
Held this year from Nov 1 to 10 in the Bras Basah district, the 16th edition of the annual festival, organised by Singapore’s National Arts Council, will see a huge range of literary events being held, from panel discussions, lectures, meet the author sessions, book launches and the presence of a whole host of international authors.
These will include, among others, Britain’s first female Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, renowned philosopher AC Grayling, and Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian, whose documentary Requiem For Beauty will be premiered at the SWF.
Further exploring the dichotomies of the Utopia/Dystopia theme, the festival line-up features non-fiction writers like Jung Chang (author of Wild Swans) alongside fiction authors like Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) and Fatima Bhutto (Pakistani writer and granddaughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto).
Joining them will be a diverse range of authors whose works touch either directly or indirectly on SWF’s theme, such as crime fiction writer Peter James, young adult writer Lucy Hawking (daughter of physicist Stephen Hawking), and comics writer and fiction author G. Willow Wilson (her most recent novel was Alif The Unseen). Joining them will be a whole host of regional authors, including Malaysians like Bernice Chauly, Daphne Lee, Dina Zaman and Sunil Nair.
This year’s SWF sees several firsts, including the charming Literary Walk, where writer Rosemary Lim takes you to locations that inspired the likes of Rex Shelley and Edwin Thumboo, and follows in the footsteps of Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham during their stints in Singapore.
With its emphasis on being miltilingual, the SWF will continue with its strong Chinese, Malay and Tamil lineup – and for the first time, this will feature a Malay conference entitled Sastera-Kota.
Running parallel to the festival will be the events of the SWF Fringe, curated by The Arts House. Themed Once Upon A Time, the programme aims to explore the darker side of fairy tales and folklore, with the presence of writers such as award-winning mythic fiction author Terri Windling and filmmaker/novelist Catherine Breillat.
The Arts House will further celebrate the lyricism and imagination of Nordic writing by presenting a special focus on it, with leading writers from that region like thriller writer Christian Jurgersen and Norwegian novelist Roy Jacobsen, as well as poet and literary critic Aase Berg and Icelandic author/lyricist Sjon.
With so many events catered to almost every kind of bibliophile, Tan is confident that the formula they’ve struck upon for the SWF is one that works – not only by reaching out to and bringing readers together, but hopefully, by finding something new to feed their literary appetite with.
“When people come to the festival and discover a new author, a local writer they never knew about, or a translated work, that makes it all worthwhile,” he concludes.
>>The Singapore Writers Festival 2013 will be held from Nov 1 to 10. Festival passes, priced at S$15 (RM38.30), are available through SISTIC atsistic.com.sg and bytes.sg.
For more information on the full festival programme, visit the SWF website (http://www.singaporewritersfestival.com) or Facebook
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