With the world settling back to normal after the pandemic, Singapore is looking to bump up its tourist levels as fast as possible. The Lion City, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, is looking to host multiple events and festivals both new and old.
The Singapore Writers Festival is one traditional literary event dating back to 1986. Organised by the National Arts Council, the festival serves a dual function of promoting new and emerging Singaporean and Asian writing to an international audience as well as presenting foreign writers to Singaporeans.
The 26th edition of SWF will be held from November 17 to 26, 2023.
Since 2019, the festival has been helmed by noted poet, master storyteller and theatre performer Pooja Nansi. This will be Pooja’s fifth year as Festival Director.
Over the course of her tenure, she strengthened the outreach to varied audiences such as the youth and people with special needs, enhanced the multilingual character of SWF and presented the first fully digital festival in 2021.
Speaking about her journey and what inspires her poetry and creativity, Nansi told Connected to India that she was first inspired to write her own poetry upon her first encounter with Sylvia Plath's poem, ‘Daddy’, in a school library when she was a 13-year-old.
“It was the first time I felt allowed to have strong feelings, such as anger, in my writing. My creative influences include old Bollywood songs, hip-hop artists such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, pop music such as Britney Spears and Elton John, and poets such as Cyril Wong and Leonard Cohen,” she said.
Pooja’s work is a combination of poetry, music and performance; she refuses to be pigeonholed as a performance or page poet because she believes that poetry can exist in multiple ways without the need for distinction.
While in university, she attended Word Forward's poetry slam at Zouk, a nightclub in Singapore, and discovered slam poetry and spoken word. After publishing her first poetry collection, Stiletto Scars, in 2007 under Word Forward's publishing arm, in 2009, Pooja formed a spoken word and music duo with actress-singer Anjana Srinivasan called the ‘Mango Dollies’.
In 2013, she started Speakeasy, a monthly poetry reading featuring both performance and page poets, creating a platform to bring both communities together.
With the SWF returning to onground activities this year, Pooja spoke about her vision for the literary arts and where they are heading over the next decade.
“It's hard also for me to predict where the literary arts is heading except to say that undeniably it will have to adapt to new ways and mediums of consumption and distribution,” she said.
The Singapore Writers Festival itself has evolved since its inception, although some of the core values have stayed the same since the first event.
“The Singapore Writers Festival is a multilingual festival that has stayed committed to facilitating conversations and cross-cultural understanding,” Pooja said. “The 2022 edition returned boldly with its first full-scale format since the pandemic with novel offerings that engaged with new and diverse audiences to nurture an interest in literature. I think that the pandemic has irreversibly changed us all on an independent and communal level and shown us that we can never take a physical gathering for granted, so the temporality of physical performances feel even more precious.”
2022 saw record audience numbers and the first-ever outdoor Festival Village with programmes over three weekends instead of the usual two. Pooja is looking to make the 2023 edition even bigger.
“As a festival team, we truly believe that there is something at the festival for everyone,” she said, signing off.