Singapore Writers Festival 2023 opens with a ‘Plot Twist’, as ChatGPT takes part in opening debate

The 2023 edition of the annual Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) was inaugurated yesterday with the theme ‘Plot Twist’. The festival runs till November 26; its programme encompasses a wide range of events, from activities with children to hip-hop performances to Plot Twist walking tours.

Singapore First Lady Jane Ittogi (fourth from left), AHL Chairman Wilson Tan (fifth from left), and SWF Festival Director Pooja Nansi (third from right) with other attendees at the opening night. Photo courtesy: Arts House Limited

The opening ceremony of the 26th edition of this festival had Singapore First Lady Jane Ittogi as the Guest of Honour, who said in her speech how the festival had the “ability to create windows between cultures”. Other speakers at the SWF opening ceremony were Wilson Tan, Chairman of Arts House Limited (AHL), which is the organiser of the festival on behalf of the National Arts Council, and Pooja Nansi, Festival Director.

The opening addresses and the Festival Opening Debate took place at Victoria Theatre. Guest of Honour Jane Ittogi proceeded to The Arts House after the opening addresses.

Indeed, the SWF opening night had a plot twist of its own — the closing speaker for the popular Festival Opening Debate was none other than… ChatGPT. Very apt, since ChatGPT was on the proposition team for the motion “This House believes AI is the better writer”.

The chair on the extreme right has ChatGPT on the proposition team for the motion “This House believes AI is the better writer”. Photo courtesy: Arts House Limited

Officially declaring the festival open, Jane Ittogi said in her speech, “This year’s theme of ‘Plot Twist’ provides a fresh and sometimes unexpected lens. In today’s world of fewer certainties, a world of new and in some ways terrifying uncertainties, Plot Twist resonates with us, I’m sure. It evokes our being in a state of suspense, and some fear, and yet creates that window of hope, that the twist in the plot will be positive, that storms will eventually be resolved in favour of our joint humanity.”

Further into her speech, Ittogi said, “One of the key strengths of the festival is its ability to create windows between cultures. Writers from diverse backgrounds gather in our cultural oasis in Singapore for dialogue and exchange of ideas.”

The opening night audience. Photo courtesy: Arts House Limited

She added, “The festival celebrates also another type of diversity — the written word in its multifarious forms, including comedy, video games and even astrology. Aiming to reach new and diverse audiences, the festival has designed programmes and created partnerships — to present a dynamic fusion of various art forms, including the hip-hop series that you’ve heard about, that fuses the power of literature with the rhythm of music; a tour series that intertwines literature with the beauty of nature; and a sport programme that weaves martial arts into the fabric of storytelling.”

Elaborating more on the SWF events, festival director Nansi said in her speech, “In our over 200 in-person programmes featuring about 260 writers from Singapore and across the world, you will find unconventional, multi-disciplinary programming including a hip-hop 50th anniversary series, combat sports, punk rock, and walking tours. More importantly, you will encounter difference.”

One of the diverse SWF 2023 events. Photo courtesy: Arts House Limited

Nansi, who ends her five-year festival directorship with this edition of the SWF, said that “endings are bittersweet”.

The first opening speech of the SWF was delivered by AHL Chairman Tan, who said, “[The] SWF is one of the few multi-lingual literary festivals in the world. That’s where we come together and celebrate Tamil, Malay, Chinese, and English literary works.”

He added, “It is a much-anticipated event on the arts and cultural calendar of Singapore. The festival presents the world’s major literary talents to residents [and] Singaporeans and, at the same time, shines a spotlight on Southeast Asian talents and also our homegrown creative literary talents.”

According to a pre-event press release from the AHL, released to the media last month, the festival directorship of the SWF will pass from Nansi to Singaporean poet and educator Yong Shu Hoong in January 2024. Shu Hoong is dedicated to mentoring young writers and fostering the growth and development of emerging talents in Singapore’s literary scene.