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Culture Club: Asia's Literary Festivals

October 27, 2016

Had your fill of Dull-gas, Moan-et and Blah-sel? Sure, the big names and brash spectacles are fab, but beyond the usual media-grabbing suspects, there are myriad more elusive and exclusive happenings around the globe.

Ubud’s famed Writer’s Festival ends this Sunday, but if you missed skipping to Bali for the region’s biggest literary love-in, fret not, as this November both Singapore and Hong Kong are upping their cultural game by hosting festivals dedicated to the written (and spoken) word.

Singapore Writer’s Festival

When: 4-16 Nov
Where: The genteel civic district

Singapore oft gets rap for its lack of culture, but the writer’s fest has been a quiet yet firm fixture on the calendar since 1986. Now the second biggest gathering of literary talent in Asia, it attracts budding scribes along with Singaporean and major international names of fiction and non-fiction.

This year’s event is held under the theme of ‘Sayang’ (a Malay word with double meaning, used as a term of affection, but also to express the bittersweet), and there are dozens of talks, workshops, performances, masterclasses, panels and exhibitions examining the love and longing experienced in life, for grown-ups and kids alike.

The line-up of writers reads like a Booker longlist with Singapore repped by critic, poet and graphic artist Gwee Li Sui and and Aus-based poet Boey Kim Cheng, and international fly-ins from Lionel Shriver of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ fame; investigative journalist Frederik Obermaier (he who broke the Panama papers); Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri, Man Asian Prize winner Tan Twan Eng, and Tash Aw, who’s twice been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

If you’ve missed out on the big-ticket events there’re plenty of activities, exhibitions and masterclasses to make you think, and hone your writing skills. singaporewritersfestival.com

Hong Kong Literary Festival

When: 4-13 Nov
Where: variety of locations, incl. Kee Club, The Fringe Club and FCC

While Hong Kong’s grand-slam art events pull in the glitterati (and bring in the bucks), the city’s literary festival has in the past lingered in the wings. But this year’s 10-day extravaganza packs a punch with a reinvigorated programme of events, discussions and workshops hosted by emerging and established writers of all genres.

A slew of big-name authors including Hanya Yanagihara, of the astonishing ‘A Little LIfe’, Lionel Shriver (on her tour of Asia), North Korea defector Hyeonseo Lee, and Beijing poet Bei Dao will headline, plus HK-based China expert Frank Dikötter will present and debate, at a time when freedom of expression is a red-hot topic in HK.  And if you miss the readings, there are a slew of sophisty author lunches, dinners and workshops to whet your writing appetite. festival.org.hk

But wait, there’s more...  Pop to Penang at the end of the month when Georgetown hosts its Literary Festival from 25-27 Nov. Expect panel discussions, performances, film-screenings and writing workshops from names as diverse as Brit thinker AC Grayling, Indonesian author Ayu Utami and Flemish writer Stefan Hertmas. georgetownlitfest.com

- Published 28 October 2016.

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