Though going digital for the first time in its history, the SWF – which is organised by the National Arts Council – will nevertheless feature global literary luminaries as headliners. British novelist and essayist Zadie Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning American poets Tracy K Smith and Sharon Olds, multi-award-winning Chinese sci-fi novelist Liu Cixin and revered American graphic novelist Art Spiegelman lead the exciting list of writers.
“Intimacy” is the theme of the festival this year. While that might seem like a strange choice during a time when physical closeness has been so limited, anyone who has had a late-night heart-to-heart over text or a via a video call can appreciate the rich possibilities for connection on virtual platforms. Regular festival-goers may miss the energy and serendipitous encounters at SWF’s headquarters at The Arts House, and live book signings at the festival bookstore, but digital formats promise many advantages.
In a virtual event for the media, festival director Pooja Nansi said, “We are thrilled to offer our audiences this strong mix of online and offline touch points, and are excited to see how digitalisation can bring about greater convenience to festival goers who will be able to attend a wider range of programmes.”
The events will touch on topics such as “loneliness, mental health and the need for human interaction and community-mindedness in a time of pandemic”. For example, the Sit With Me microsite will present aural and visual portraits of diverse mental states, with the aim to encourage empathy, and the Connections – Original Monologues From Our Homes film series will feature five seniors, all of them first-time writers, performing monologues filmed at their homes.
Other innovative digital events include Play this Story: The Book of Red Shadows, an interactive psychological horror game based on the speculative fiction of Victor Fernando R Ocampo that unfolds over email; and A Call Away, a project inspired by Singaporean poet Alvin Tan’s best-selling What Gives Us Our Names, where participants are guided through a special package by a voice on the phone.
The festival’s regional and multi-lingual programmes this year include a series of talks and panels, Southeast Asia Focus, in partnership with local arts non-profit SingLit Station; a Malay poetry panel; and an ambitious live translation event. Literary Pioneers, an interactive exhibition at The Arts House, will celebrate the lives and works of three Tamil writers and Cultural Medallion winners: P Krishnan, Ma Elangkannan and Rama Kannabiran.
The Arts House will also be the headquarters of SWF’s radio station, Night Spin 182.7, airing special stories and programmes throughout the festival.
The majority of events are either free to the public or can be accessed via the S$20 Festival Pass. Special ticket events include one-hour virtual sessions that promise fans “up, close and personal” time with each of the headliners.
For more information on the full line-up of events and ticketing, please visit the official website.