This year has truly been a festival of all sorts for me – From dancing the night away at Future Music Festival Asia in KL to getting lost in the enchanting wonders of the Singapore Garden Festival and watching an artsy film at the Design Film Festival; I have been very fortunate to be exposed to so many different forms of creativity and expression. Rounding up the series of festivals is one of Asia’s premier literary events, the annual Singapore Writers Festival 2014 (SWF). For the 17th installation, the organizing committee has invited some of the world’s most renowned authors and writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, 3-time US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, American travel writer Paul Theroux and best-selling author and activist Naomi Wolf.
Themed as “The Prospect of Beauty”, this year’s 10-days long festival (31 Oct – 9 Nov) aims to celebrate and appreciate the beauty in writing and literature. The festival features over 250 events, ranging from free public events to panel discussions, poetry-cum-music readings, literary meals and more! Want to get more bang for your buck? Get the festival pass and enjoy entry to a wide variety of events, specially catered for the bookworm in you!
Singapore Writers Festival 2014
Festival Pass: $20
The first weekend at SWF has been so enriching in many ways. I was expecting nothing more than the usual educational talks, where you leave the event with a few key takeaways. However, I soon found out that I was constantly challenged to open my mind to different perspectives that were brought forth during the various panel discussions. Like most people, I love visuals and pictures because they are easy to process; but the power of words is very alluring and should not be under-estimated. Words have the ability to give room for the reader to cook up a figment of their own imagination through fiction. It allows you, as a reader, to escape from the doldrums of everyday life, immerse in another world and get lost in the books. This is probably also the reason why many people prefer the original books to movie adaptations because words, or a good story, allow the readers to come up with very vivid and original imagery in their minds. The only constraint that they have is the limitations of their imagination.
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
– Diane Setterfield
While the majority of the panel discussions revolve around hard-hitting and literary topics, those who are looking for something more light-hearted will not be disappointed. One of my favourite discussion, named “Story of My Life”, talked about the life experiences and stories that inspired the authors to pen their own memoirs. Put a diva and self-proclaimed bitch (Godfather of local fashion scene, Daniel Boey) and a no holds-barred theater director (Loretta Chen, who’s also 1 of my favourite (ex)boss) together in the same room and it’s almost a guarantee that there will be lots of candid and funny moments.
On the other hand, Sunday’s talks regarding humanitarian rights and the meaning of freedom in an oppressive country were much more serious and thought-provoking. Dr Mukesh Kapila, former head of the UN mission in Sudan, and human rights activist, Loung Ung, spoke about the need for them to confront global indifference about poverty and help break the silence of these people through words and stories. Loung Ung was so descriptive and intense in narrating her experiences of seeing her best friend’s brain blown off during an explosion that I found myself tearing uncontrollably. Then, it hit me – Just how moving and powerful words can be. I am not shy to admit that I have cried buckets over poignant films but this was one of the very rare times that I was tearing, based on the emotions evoked purely by words.
In “The Meaning of Freedom”, Loung Ung and North Korean defector Jang Jin-sung, shared about what it means to be “free” in their respective oppressive countries (Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime and North Korea). Living under a totalitarian dictatorship meant that they had no right to freedom (Freedom defined as having the power to act, speak, or think as one wants) and had to basically live a life that is dictated for them. Their sharing also reminded me to reflect on my own life, and be thankful that despite the many challenges that I might have faced, I am still very fortunate to have the freedom of expression and thought.