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The theme of aram, a Tamil word describing "virtue" and "doing good", anchors this year's Singapore Writers Festival.

Junot Diaz is one of the celebrity authors appearing at the festival.

Singer-songwriter Shak'thiya is one of the performers for SWF POP, a live music component of the festival.

Taking the cue from Tamil culture

Singapore Writers Festival celebrates its 20th edition with the concept of aram or "doing good".
Sep 8, 2017 5:50 AM

ARAM is a Tamil word that carries great significance for its users. Commonly appearing in older Tamil literature, the word means "doing good to others" and "acting humanely and conscientiously". It is an important concept in the ancient Thirukkural, the foremost literary text that offers spiritual precepts to guide day-to-day living. In fact, all Tamil children in Singapore grow up memorising a series of short poems that begin with the word aram.

Now, aram has become the main theme of the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival (SWF). The 20th edition of the festival features an aram conference that explores the dimensions of goodness and virtue. The panel discussions include an intercultural dialogue between well-known intellectuals from various backgrounds, an examination of aram in the age of widespread conflict, and a look at how aram can be relevant to the youth of today.

Tamilavel, the news editor of Singapore Press Holdings daily Tamil Murasu, says: "Aram has many meanings, and no single definition in English can do it complete justice. But essentially, it is about doing good for others . . . Everyone in the Tamil community can identify with it. And now, with SWF choosing it as the festival theme, more people will have an understanding of this concept that underpins Tamil morality."

The annual festival, which runs from Nov 3 to Nov 12, is also partnering Tamil Murasu for three events. The first is a concert featuring Tamil rock and jazz bands and musicians such as RaghaJazz and Boxchild, which will put Tamil poetry to rock music. Mr Tamilavel says: "It's never been done before in Singapore. And we really hope young people will come and have a blast at the concert."

The second co-organised event is a storytelling session that showcases traditional forms. One of them is Villupattu, a unique method in which the narrator tells her story with a musical bow. The renowned performer Bharati Thirumagan has been invited from Tamil Nadu, India, to give Singapore audience a taste of Villupattu.

The storytelling event also features therukoothu (street theatre) presented by local troupe Avant Theatre, and veethinadanam (storytelling through dance) by Bhaskar's Arts Academy, headed by well-known dancer Santha Bhaskar. The third event co-organised by SWF and Tamil Murasu is a public reading of poems that have been published by the newspaper over the years. Tamil Murasu, which at 82 is the second oldest Tamil daily in the world, has a literary page every Sunday that publishes short stories and poems by its readers. Mr Tamilavel says: "There is no famous Tamil writer in Singapore that hasn't appeared on our literary page. Everyone who's anyone has contributed to it."

Reflecting on the choice of aram as the festival theme, SWF director Yeow Kai Chai says: "It's important to remember the past and acknowledge the contributions of those who have come before us . . . Today, the festival aims to engender a sense of curiosity about the world we live in now, and how each of us can strive to make it a better place for all."

As with all previous editions, SWF 2017 is headlined by literary stars such as Junot Diaz who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Ken Liu whose fantasy tale The Paper Menagerie became the first work of fiction to win the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Awards; and Jay Asher of bestselling young adult novel 13 Reasons Why which became a hit TV series.

Local authors gracing the event include Catherine Lim, Suratman Markasan, Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, Marc Nair, Clara Chow, Deborah Emmanuel, O Thiam Chin and Aaron Lee. (See other story for highlights of the festival.)

The Singapore Writers Festival 2017 runs on Nov 3-12 at various locations in the central Civic District. Tickets of S$10 to S$60 are available from Sistic for various events. A S$25 festival pass give you access to most of the talks and panel discussions. Go to for more information.

Highlights of SWF

THERE are some 240 literary talents attending and 290 events taking place over 12 days. Here are a few events you might like to catch.

Hope and Resistance in the Age of Dystopia by Junot Diaz

Amid the social and political turmoil taking place in the world now, how can marginalised communities empower themselves? Author and activist Junot Díaz offers some answers in his lecture.

Nov 11, Sat, 3.30 - 4.30 pm, Victoria Theatre.

How To Write A Bestseller by Tony Parsons

Award-winning journalist and a bestselling novelist Tony Parsons of Man And Boy fame gives a masterclass on how to write books that sell.

Nov 11, Sat, 2.00 - 3.00 pm, The Arts House

An Evening With Anne

Anne Lee Tze Pheng is one of the literary pioneers of Singapore. Having written poetry that reflects on the country and its people for over 30 years, she will be joined by her peers and former students as they recite their favourite poems by her.

Nov 8, Wed, 7.30 - 9.30 pm, The Arts House

The Fear of Death by Catherine Lim

One of Singapore's best authors, Catherine Lim talks about mortality with the publication of her latest book, An Equal Joy: Reflections on God, Death and Belonging.

Nov 4, Sat, 2.00 - 2.45 pm, The Arts House

Lyrical Éire: An Irish Night Of Words And Music

The country focus of SWF 2017 is Ireland and a number of events celebrating its literature has been programmed. In this one, Irish writers, performance poets, musicians and others will gather to share the magic of Irish writing.

Nov 3, Fri, 8.00 - 9.30 pm, The Arts House

This House Believes That Kiasuism Is A Good Singaporean Trait

The festival always ends with a lively debate. And this year, it takes on the theme of kiasu-ism. Expect much hilarity with speakers such as Oniatta Effendi, Rishi Budhrani and Adrian Tan.

Nov 12, Sun, 7.00 - 8.30 pm, Victoria Theatre