Singapore Writers Fest celebrates Datuk Lat, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Spivak


Legendary Malaysian cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid, better known as Lat, will deliver a festival keynote at the Singapore Writers Festival in November. Photo: Filepic

The spin in this year’s Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) is a strong musical component to the programming.

In keeping with the theme of "Plot Twist", which seeks to present the unexpected, the festival features personalities such as Susan Rogers, who was the late American pop legend Prince’s sound engineer, and hip hop historian Jeff Chang, as well as programmes celebrating 50 years of hip hop.

Festival director Pooja Nansi, a self-professed hip hop fan who says Chang was her “nerdy” programming request, says: “It feels like previous editions led us to this point where we feel bold enough to programme weirder and more niche things.”

Hence SWF’s headliners range far and wide, from cult academics to best-selling authors.

Legendary post-colonial literary theorist and feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak will sit down for an "In Conversation" session at Victoria Theatre on Nov 19, while Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer Viet Thanh Nguyen will deliver a festival keynote and feature in a session of the popular "In A Tiny Room" series.

More accessible names include beloved Malaysian cartoonist Lat, who will deliver a festival keynote, and John Patrick Green, whose InvestiGators comics occupy semi-permanent spots on The Straits Times’ children’s bestseller lists.

Poet-writer Fatimah Asghar, creator of the Emmy-nominated Web series Brown Girls, will also attend the festival.

Early-bird ticket sales are open for SWF, which will run from Nov 17-26. It is organised by Arts House Limited and commissioned by the National Arts Council.

This year’s Literary Pioneer exhibition also has a music element as it celebrates the late Singaporean novelist and cultural entrepreneur Goh Poh Seng.

The exhibition’s name – Tell Bowie He’s Only A Rock Star. I, However, Am A Poet – references Goh’s impresario career.

The line comes from a famous incident when Goh brought the late English pop legend David Bowie to Singapore for a concert in 1983.

When Bowie declined to attend a gathering with classical Chinese musicians in Goh’s home, the latter’s riposte – “Tell Bowie he’s only a rock star. I, however, am a poet” – prompted the singer to show up.This is Nansi’s fifth and final year as festival director. The Arts House in Singapore has yet to announce who will take over the position.

She has had a roller-coaster stint, taking over in 2019 and helming the festival through its first digital edition in 2021 amid the pandemic. She has championed youth programming as well as diversity.

The Singaporean festival grew from 25,600 festivalgoers in 2019 to more than 46,000 attendees in 2022. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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