Singapore Writers Festival: Hits and misses

3 days ago 22

SINGAPORE – Full houses. Book signings. Big-name authors in town. After two years of online and hybrid programming, the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) returned with a vengeance in November.

The annual event, spanning three weekends for the first time, drew more than 46,000 visitors, up from the 25,600 festivalgoers in 2019, the last full-scale edition. Arts House Limited, which organises the event, said the number includes ticketed figures, but numbers were not available for ticket sales.

Tickets to the In A Tiny Room sessions with headliners such as Jeanette Winterson and Ted Chiang sold out before the festival had begun. Talks by these authors, as well as panel sessions with topics ranging from women writers to decolonisation, drew packed houses.

The Singapore Writers Festival, helmed by poet Pooja Nansi since 2019, ran from Nov 4 to 20 with the theme “If” and had more than 300 programmes. It was commissioned by the National Arts Council.

Here is the Life arts team’s pick of what worked and what flopped at this year’s festival.

Bouquets

1. Headline hits

English author Jeanette Winterson and American writer Ted Chiang were the hits of the festival. They drew packed houses, not just for their keynote lectures, each ticketed at $32, but also for the In A Tiny Room sessions, which cost $60 a pop. 

Winterson was an engaging speaker, approaching complex issues of gender, ethics and science with a down-to-earth practicality, while Chiang lived up to his brainiac reputation with an intense lecture that addressed time-travel story tropes. 

Both also endeared themselves to fans by spending long hours signing books, and attracted long queues in the hundreds after their keynote lectures. Winterson was signing books till 9.20pm on Nov 13 after an evening panel discussion.

2. Young guns score bullseye

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