SINGAPORE – A musical number sung in English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, Hokkien and Cantonese opened the 21st edition of the Singapore Writers Festival on Friday (Nov 2).

The piece by local author-musician Kelvin Tan, with lyrics on humanity and the importance of connection, was followed by a dikir barat performance paying tribute to the late pioneer musician Zaidy Nandir.

The annual festival will run from Friday to Nov 11, with more than 310 programmes featuring a record of more than 390 writers and speakers.

This year’s theme is “jie”, which means “world” or “boundary” in Mandarin.

“Jie ranges from the universe at large to the galaxies beyond our comprehension and of course to the limits of our imagination. At the same time, it can refer to the boundaries and borders that protect us, but also exclude some of us,” said festival director Yeow Kai Chai, who will hand over the reins to Youth Poet Ambassador Pooja Nansi next year.

Tan’s song, he added, “reflects the creative and organic ways in which Singaporeans code-switch between different registers and parlances, and how we are all unite through kith and kin”.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng during the opening ceremony at Victoria Theatre said: “I hope that this year’s theme encourages the exchange of ideas across a broad spectrum of topics, and enables all festival-goers to gain fresh perspectives on what it means to be part of an increasingly inter-connected and dynamic world.” 

The 10-day festival will honour Singapore’s literary pioneer Yeng Pway Ngon, with events such as a classroom talk, exhibition and an evening party.

Some of the international speakers are Oxford poetry professor Simon Armitage, Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai, Chinese science fiction author Xia Jia, American humorist David Sedaris, Scottish writer Irvine Welsh, American young adult and Marvel comics writer Margaret Stohl, Legends Of The Condor Heroes translator Anna Holmwood, literature professor Sarah Churchwell, and the first Aboriginal Australian to receive the international Windham-Campbell Literary Prize for Poetry, Ali Cobby Eckermann.

Veteran poet Edwin Thumboo, Chinese-language writer and scholar Professor Wong Yoon Wah, and novelist Sharlene Teo, whose debut novel Ponti was published this year, are among the Singaporeans featured.

Germany is the country of focus at this year’s festival, which will also spotlight German writers such as spoken word artist Fatima Moumouni, journalist Miriam Meckel and novelist Julia Franck, whose book Die Mittagsfrau (The Blind Side Of The Heart), set in both World War I and II, won the German Book Prize in 2007.

The Singapore Writers Festival began in 1986 as a biennial event and became an annual highlight in 2011. Last year’s event drew almost 25,500 people, setting a new record for attendance.

BOOK IT / SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL

WHERE: Various locations in the Civic District

WHEN: Till Nov 11

ADMISSION: $25 for regular festival passes; separately ticketed events are $5 to $111.80, from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg).

INFO: Go to www.singaporewritersfestival.com or www.facebook.com/sgwritersfest

“This year, in line with the Festival theme, we exhort everybody to survey the world around you and reflect on contemporaneous issues such as identity, multiculturalism, migration and climate change, and ask: ‘Who are we? What kind of world are we passing on to the next generation?'” said  Yeow.

To make the festival more accessible, this year’s edition will also offer note-taking services for the hearing-impaired, as well as programmes designed for children with autism and Down syndrome.

The festival will close on Nov 11 with the debate This House Believes That Singaporeans Are Better Off With Social Media.

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