SINGAPORE writers are pulling out of activities involving the National Library Board (NLB) to protest against the removal of three children's books from public libraries.
On Friday, writers Gwee Li Sui, Adrian Tan, Prem Anand and Felix Cheong cancelled their panel Humour Is Serious Business, supposed to be held tomorrow at the Central Public Library as part of the Read! Singapore initiative.
Playwright and novelist Ovidia Yu also resigned from the steering committee of the Singapore Writers Festival.
NLB is a partner of the annual literary festival, to be held from Oct 31 to Nov 9.
Dr Gwee, 43, will also not be a keynote speaker at the National Schools Literature Festival today, for which NLB is a partner.
All the writers are against NLB's decision to remove three books slammed by some readers for homosexual content.
"NLB asked us to talk about humour. But we didn't find it amusing at all that NLB would spend Read!
Singapore, our national reading month, preventing Singaporeans from reading books," said novelist and lawyer Tan, 48.
NLB said the books were removed after readers' complaints echoed librarians' concerns over the content.
The books include The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, featuring a lesbian couple among others; Who's In My Family?: All About Our Families, which features various family structures; and a book which the American Library Association says is regularly challenged by readers: And Tango Makes Three, based on the true story of two male penguins which hatched an egg in a New York zoo.
Writers are upset that these books will be pulped, rather than resold or offered to homes.
"This is my first time taking this kind of drastic action," said Cheong, 49, who would have spoken at the panel for free and has done similar activities at NLB for over 10 years.
"I've always obliged because they are promoting books but this is very anti-book, which is why I'm so upset and angry."
The father of a teenage son added: "As a father, I use books as an opportunity to open discussion of difficult topics, not close them."
Dr Gwee pulled out of today's school event because of his "conscience".
"How can I encourage students to love and explore creativity in words when a partner of this event is callously damaging creative efforts and exploration?" he said.
Yu, 53, declined to comment further. Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) director Paul Tan, 43, said: "We are sad that Ovidia has decided to resign from the SWF steering committee... I asked her to reconsider, but we will respect her final decision."
Singapore Literature Prize- winning poet Cyril Wong, 37, said he would participate in the Singapore Writers Festival this year but would "stop working with governmental organisations" from next year.
"If my reason for writing is to be heard, then that's not true any more in the Singapore context.
If they can pulp a cartoon book for children, then nothing has changed," he said.
With additional reporting by Pearl Lee
This article was first published on July 12, 2014.
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