2015 sees Singapore celebrating SG50 - 50 years since Independence. In a nod to politics past, SWF launched in what was, at Independence, in 1965, the Parliamentary Chamber of the former Parliament House - now an arts venue.
The theme this year is Island of Dreams. Guest of Honour, Mrs Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth explained the theme would resonate with Singaporeans as they looked inwards, "national and cultural identity is always something that guides us, as we support the aspirations of our Singapore authors." She mentioned the Festival would see the launch of Singathology an anthology of 50 new works in Singapore's four official languages - English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay - and she highlighted Imagine Singapore, an upcoming panel of writers and thinkers that "invites us to imagine the Singapore of tomorrow."
But the Festival will also be outward looking, in particular to other island nations - Indonesia, that archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, has been chosen as this year's guest of honour.
Festival Director Yeow Kai Chai, interviewed yesterday, stressed the Festival wants to help break down barriers between literary forms, to "broaden the horizon of what it really means to write, and not just on a page." He said the aim is to present the written word "in its variety of forms of a book, a play, a song or poetry" to show that the word is "a powerful tool to appreciate the world around us, and voice our hopes and dreams."
In the spirit of this cross-disciplinary approach, there was only one traditional reading; local poet Gwee Li Sui read New World, a poem commissioned especially for the Festival, and exploring its theme by investigating a girl's dream: "Jayasutha discovers a country // at the edge of her bed..." Otherwise, the appearances by writers of various sorts were all performances.
Hollie Fullbrook, of New Zealand’s indie folk band Tiny Ruins, performed a stellar opening number, a world debut of her latest original – A Million Flowers.
Singapore’s Brendon Fernandez gave a teaser performance of My Grandpa’s Kitchen which will be part of What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, SWF’s first-ever overnight immersive experience with drama, poetry, song-writing and prose, to take place next Friday.
Omar Perez Lopez, a Cuban poet, musician and translator, and Fijian performance poet Daren Kamali, together presented an extraordinary piece, partly in Spanish, partly in English, and featuring Kamali brandishing a wau - a Fijian warrior weapon - at the audience.
All-in-all, the launch promised great things to come, in the diverse line-up of 300 events that will invite audiences to celebrate and reflect on their dreams, hopes and aspirations.