Pooja Nansi’s Takeover of SWF: A Win for Singapore’s Art Scene

Just days before the 21st run of the Singapore Writers Festival this weekend, the National Arts Council announced that independent poet Pooja Nansi will take the wheel for 2019 edition.

With the Love is an Empty Barstool poet having served as Singapores first-ever Youth Poet Ambassador last year, Pooja Nansi’s takeover as SWF’s director might not be as surprising as we think. Yet, it speaks volumes of the direction and future of our country’s arts industry.


The festival has been no stranger to controversy in recent years; its entanglement in the 2014 Penguingate and Sonny Liew’s NAC fallout, for instance, reveal the misses that come with the state’s involvement in the Arts.

It not only reflects a problem with artistic rights to expression, but also glimpses a lack of tolerance for alternative forms of art, no matter how well they do.

And here comes Pooja Nansi, known for her spoken poetry mashups with hip-hop and gangster rap (see You Are Here and Thick Beats for Good Girls), and her gutsy outspokenness on touchy issues encompassing elitism and instagram poetry, and race and representation in CRA.


The poet isn’t shoe-shined and scholarly as they come; she’s grunge and grace, grit and wisdom; she’s been to the streets, the high grounds and underground — and now we know she’ll be throwing a party with everyone in the same room, this time next year.

As both a defender and champion of alternative art, Nansi’s new appointment is definitely a breath of fresh air from the festival’s eight consecutive years of NAC-influenced leadership. Yet, it tells of a change already rippling through the literary arts scene.

In its recent years, SWF has experienced bold shifts in its conversations. This year’s SWF lineup will take attendees beyond the sheltering walls of Singaporean living and into the throes of climate change, war, migrations, displacement. It’ll also celebrate our nation’s history and progress in literature, dance, architecture, and music.

This year’s edition of the Singapore Writers Festival will run from 2 to 11 November, featuring a record number of more than 390 writers and speakers, including Man Booker prize-winning Indian author Kiran Desai, American humourist David Sedaris and Malaysian poet Zurinah Hassan, over some 310 programmes.


NAC’s faith in Nansi is a win for the arts, the approaching of the light at the end of the tunnel; it signals our entry into a new era where we finally witness a greater inclusion of braver voices, diverse styles, and minority writers.


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