What next writers festival should have

What next writers festival should have
Express yourself: Festival director Paul Tan goes over the finer points of this year's theme Utopia/Dystopia

A festival of talking heads may not sound like the kind of thing to sweep Singaporeans off their feet, but one event has grown from strength to strength in spite of that basic format.

Three years after the hitherto free biennial Singapore Writers Festival became an annual ticketed affair with a festival director, it has become a highly anticipated and well-attended event on the arts calendar.

Like successful writers festivals such as the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, it has thrived by playing host to a wide range of authors and conversations that resonate with readers.

Since 2011, it has also taken a leaf from the book of the much larger Edinburgh festival in having a centralised outdoor setting, in this case, white bubble tents set up for the duration of the festival on the lawn of the Singapore Management University.

Some events are also held in the nearby museums. This downtown location has worked well, particularly this year when the festival overlapped with the ongoing Singapore Biennale and drew spillover crowds from the museums.

The tents and museums were a perennial hive of activity during the festival from Nov 1 to 10, which featured 183 authors. More than 19,200 people attended free and ticketed events, up from 16,200 last year and 13,500 in 2011.

Among the highlights was a standing- room-only poetry reading by Britain's poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who read aloud to 300 listeners her forthright verse delving into issues of gender and social responsibility.

Another headline author, Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid, spoke of the manipulation of reality in novels such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been adapted into a film.

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