Monday, October 03, 2016

2nd Singapore Literature Festival in NYC (Sep 28 - Oct 1)

2nd Singapore Lit Fest ended on a high note on Saturday, with scholarly and passionate talks about Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. I hope the panel is the first of many, many to come because the graphic novel rewards close analysis and open discussion. A favorite moment was when two panelists, Ying Sze Pek and Matt Humphreys, disagreed with one another. Is the depiction of Lim Chin Siong and Lee Kuan Yew as hero and villian an instance of the novel's oversimplification of complex people, or is it part of the novel's sentimentalist structure? Is it, in other words, a fault or a a strength? Another favorite moment in the festival is less of a clash and more of a clarification, when Alfian Sa'at asks Jason Koo whether he means "mean as fuck" or "mean ASS fuck" in a discussion about the depiction of race and sexuality in literature. Ha, ha, literature is full of double entendres. Then there was that awkward moment in the "Fictionalizing Southeast Asia" panel when Jessica Hagedorn turned to Alfian, whose "Malay Sketches" she read and loved, to say that all the panelists, since they are writers, find themselves confronting the human crises around the world, but Alfian must feel the urgency more than they, and Alfian asked, "You mean, because I am Muslim?" And then there was that moment when Jason Koo admitted with disarming honesty that he had not been into Asian women until he visited Korea and found himself surrounded by Korean women. Yet another favorite moment came when Sheela Jane Menon, whose own presentation on Malaysian literature in "Contexts and Texts" was praised by Winston Lin as one of the best talks on any topic that he has ever heard, asked the playwrights and directors at the talkback in "Outside the Lines" how they treated time in their work, and Ovidia Yu said, and I paraphrase, that she saw both past and future through the present, for there was only the present, and I was reminded of Octavio Paz's Nobel lecture "In Search of the Present." Another favorite moment, and I really got a kick out of it, was when I was caricatured in Marcus Yi's musical "When the Merlion Returned Home" as a gay party boy, complete with black tank top and sashay, who was going to organize a Singapore literary festival without NAC funding. Well, there was no NAC since the premise was that Singapore had sunk beneath the waves. Another favorite moment happened not on stage but at rehearsal when the director Mei Ann Teo and her cast discussed with great earnestness a line from Alfian's "Hotel." In NEW YORK, people! I had a favorite moment when Alfian read the Malay Sketch "Hole," when Naomi Jackson read from her Barbados novel The Star Side of Bird Hill, when Gina Apostol read with superb irony from Gundealers' Daughter, when Jeremy Tiang read with disguised irony from "Sophia's Aunt," when Ovidia read with dramatic irony from "Hitting (On) Women," when Jessica Hagedorn read without irony from Dogeaters. Another favorite moment was when a regular attendee of events at the Asian American Writers' Workshop came up to me to tell me this was the best event she had ever attended, when the Singaporean blog editor at Asia Society came up to me to tell me this was one of the best events ever at Asia Society, and when my Department Head left the event with books by all four writer-panelists. Ah, that moment when I saw R.A. Briggs, who had flown in from Stanford to be at the festival--priceless. The moment I finally met Patsey Yeo-Ramaker, whose youthful spirit made her a tireless festival volunteer--unforgettable. What is your favorite moment?

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