Speech by Senior Parliamentary Secretary Yatiman Yusof at the Singapore Writers' Festival 2003 Opening Reception, Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place

21/08/2003

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to be here with you this evening at the Opening Reception of the Singapore Writers Festival. Selamat datang and a warm welcome to our international guests, who have come from as far afield as Poland and Israel to attend this Festival. I hope you will have a memorable and pleasant stay in Singapore.

2.     The Singapore Writers Festival has come a long way since it first began in 1986. Through the years, the Festival has matured to become an important platform to promote creative writing and literary appreciation among Singaporeans. The attendance of all of us here today reflects the strong stake that we have in the continued growth and development of the literary arts scene in Singapore.

Language & Literature are Vital Markers of National Identity and Belonging

3.     It has been said that "Absolutely nothing is so important for a nation's culture as its language (Wilhelm von Humboldt, Prussian philosopher & statesman, 1797)". Beyond its utilitarian function as a means of communication, language is a vital marker of personal and group identity. After all, it is the magnetism of language as an emotional bond that gives communities and nations their sense of belonging and identity.

4.     As part of written language, literature becomes an important component of a nation's heritage and sense of self. Literature does not only illustrate the creativity of a particular writer or the favoured literary style of a particular period. Literature provides tangible documentation of a particular era, space and the issues of the times. Given the power of the written word to inspire and influence the thoughts, beliefs and aspirations of the individual or a community, literature plays a vital role in the dissemination of ideas and as a channel for reflection, analysis and influence

5.     Here in Singapore, we sing our national anthem in Malay, and recite the national pledge in the four official languages - English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. While English is the dominant language of administration, education and commerce, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil languages are widely used among writers of various ethnic groups. Some of these works are of high standard.

6.     The presence of such a diversity of languages in a small country like Singapore has inevitably contributed to the growth and richness of our local literary scene. In fact, there has been greater buzz and flurry of activities within Singapore's literary scene in recent years, and more writers have been coming forward with new publications, compared to five years ago. Let me share with you some of the more recent developments and why I think there is a promising future for Singapore literature.

Recent Developments in Singapore's Literary Scene

7.     Many of our writers, especially those born after Singapore's independence in 1965, are slowly but surely gaining ground in the local literary scene. These young writers have an excellent command of at least English and their mother tongue. The cultural influences that these languages bring with them are clearly reflected in their writing. Young Artist Award winner Alfian Sa'at, for example, writes in English and Malay.

8.     I am happy to see these young members of the literary community actively contributing to the overall vibrancy of Singapore's arts and cultural scene. These writers have been enthusiastic in spearheading regular readings at popular venues. They have also been organising their own reading tours to other countries, such as Australia, the Philippines and the US. A group of young writers Toh Hsien Min, Felix Cheong, Cyril Wong and Alvin Pang have just returned from their participation in the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I am pleased to learn that they have been well received by international audiences. Such efforts are important as they help to create a stronger presence of our writers on the international literary scene. These overseas visits also help to forge friendships that pave the way for deeper exchanges among the writers.

9.     Thanks to modern technology, our writers have been increasingly turning to e-publishing as a way to expand their access to readers. E-journals are growing in popularity, if the rave reviews of the Flying Inkpot and the Second Rule are anything to go by. For budding talents, the Internet provides a vital platform to gather opinions of their work before they put it in print.

10.     Fruitful collaborations are also growing between our literary community and the media. For example, Arts Central's AlterAsians, a screen adaptation of some Singapore short stories, was very well received by TV audiences. Another example is Suria Channel's adaptation of Alfian Sa'at's short stories from his book, Corridors, into a Malay TV series. These alternative channels of transmission have enabled local literature to be re-packaged to attract more audiences, and bring Singapore's literary works closer to the layman.

11.     I would therefore like to encourage those of you here today, to seriously consider deeper collaborations with artists from other disciplines. By featuring your creative writing through novel presentations in other artforms that are growing in popularity, you will be gaining vital public exposure and making the literary arts more accessible to your current and potential new readers. More importantly, by doing so, you will be contributing to the greater Singapore Story, i.e. the wider canon of works unique to the Singaporean heritage and identity.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen,

12.     There is no doubt that the future of Singapore writers and Singapore writing is promising. It is up to each of us to make things happen.

13.     Before I end, I would like to commend the organisers for putting together a thought-provoking programme at this year's Singapore Writers Festival. I wish you all a fruitful and magnetic exchange. Thank you.