by Mandakini Arora
for Writers' Block: A contribution from our AWA Writers' Group members
We all have spaces where we belong. This year, two of my favorite spaces combine.
The Singapore Writers’ Festival (SWF) is a literary extravaganza over ten days in November with events clustered on two weekends. A time when I put everything else on hold to shuttle between the Arts House, Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, Asian Civilisations Museum, and the National Gallery. Originating in 1986 as the biennial Singapore Writers’ Week, SWF is now an annual event, which features local and international writers. One of many literary festivals worldwide—Hay, Jaipur, and Ubud, among others—SWF is uniquely multilingual, with English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil events. A “space to experience joy,” Festival Director Pooja Nansi writes on the SWF website.
The American Women’s Association Singapore, while predominantly American, is an organization for “all women, all walks of life, all nationalities.” Looking for an evening book club and a writers’ group, I joined AWA six years ago and now co-chair the AWA Writers’ Group. The group, which meets twice monthly on Zoom, has made me a confident and stronger writer. On 18 November 2023, four of our members will host an interactive writing workshop at SWF—Don’t Be a Stranger Now: A Workshop on Workshopping—to share best practices for a writers’ group.
SWF and AWA Writers’ Group. Two spaces where I am at home.
I like going to SWF alone, enjoying the hive of activity, which promises both unplanned meetings with friends and the freedom to independently schedule my days. I recognize my type. When I spot a friend tucked in the back of the National Gallery café with her lunch and a laptop, she hurries to say she has work to finish. Excellent! I think. Because all I want is to grab a bowl of laksa, sit alone, and read. For some, SWF is social, about meeting friends, attending events, and enjoying meals together at the festival venues. A space for all types.
The festival theme this year is “Plot Twist.” The website speaks of “embracing the unpredictable” and the possibility for festivalgoers of “an unexpected outcome, a sudden change in direction, unlikely connections.” The words “unlikely connections” resonate for me, encompassing both new friendships and literary discovery. Friends have introduced me to the work of writers I did not yet know—Simon Armitage, Marlon James, Claudia Rankine. Seeking out one author, I have stumbled on another whose writing speaks to me. Lilian Thuram in 2022.
Barely interested in sport, I had not considered listening to a former World Cup footballer speak but Thuram was on a panel I attended on home and belonging. I was riveted as he, an anti-racism activist, spoke of migrating as a boy from Guadeloupe to mainland France and of his identity as a black Frenchman. At the SWF bookstore I bought White Thinking: Behind the Mask of Racial Identity, his book about the construction of race and the continued, oppressive normalization of “white thinking.” After reading the book at one sitting, I bought another copy for my daughter and then attended a session on football featuring Thuram alone. He spoke about the sport less technically than from a socio–cultural perspective. Afterward, I was first in line for his book signing. I told Thuram I had lived in France for ten years. Where? Fontainebleau. Did you say Fontainebleau? That’s where I grew up! He rose, came around the table, and enveloped me in a hug. Fangirling, I grabbed the photo op as an already-long line of waiting fans grew.
Unlikely connections. Don’t be a stranger now. See you at SWF 2023, a place to belong.
Mandakini co-chairs the AWA Writers’ Group. She is a historian who enjoys reading and writing stories and browsing in secondhand bookstores. She writes book reviews for the AWA Magazine and on Instagram as @travelling_bookmark.
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"If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it" Toni Morrison