Saturday, September 13, 2014, St. Mark’s Bookshop
Words by Jee Leong Koh
Photos by Paul Rozario-Falcone, Christine Chia, Sandra Woock and Guy Humphrey
It was a wet night, but the drizzle did not keep the crowd away from St. Mark’s Bookshop, now in hip new digs in the East Village. Organized by the team behind Singapore Literature Festival, the event was the New York launch of Starry Island: New Writing from Singapore. The launch, held under the auspices of Manhattan Lit Crawl, attracted many crawlers. Fans of the Second Saturdays Reading Series, which culminates in the SLF this year, also turned out in enthusiastic numbers. There was standing room only in the stylish space.
The anthology Starry Island features poetry, fiction and essays by 30 Singaporean writers and translators. It is edited by Frank Stewart and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, and published by the University of Hawai’i Press as part of MANOA’s series of international literature. Contributors include such bright lights as Philip Jeyaretnam, Ng Yi-sheng, Wena Poon, Alfian Sa’at, O Thiam Chin, Cyril Wong, Toh Hsien Min and Boey Kim Cheng. Wena Poon and Cyril Wong are also featured authors at the upcoming Singapore Literature Festival.
Three contributors, all based in New York City, participated in the book launch. Jeremy Tiang read from his graceful translation of Wong Yoon Wah’s nostalgic essay “Cast from Paradise.” Amanda Lee Koe, participating in her first New York reading, entertained the crowd with an extract from her story “Panda Cunt, Bear Gall.” Koh Jee Leong read from his collection of zuihitsu The Pillow Book, which has been shortlisted for this year’s Singapore Literature Prize.
After the readings, a lively Q&A followed. The writers were asked about the influence of New York City on their writing. They were also quizzed on freedom of expression in Singapore. The National Library saga came up in the discussion, as did the recent ban on Tan Pin Pin’s documentary “To Singapore, with Love” about political dissidents living in exile. When the writers disagreed about the centrality of censorship to any presentation of Singapore literature, the audience was palpably energized by the exchange. The Q&A was moderated by Paul Rozario-Falcone, who chairs, with Jee Leong Koh, the Singapore Literature Festival in New York.
It was wonderful to talk about Sing Lit, as Singapore literature is affectionately called, in a neighborhood legendary for launching counter-cultural arts movements. We were just two blocks from the famous Nuyorican Poets Café. SLF thanks St. Mark’s Bookshop for hosting the book launch, and Manhattan Lit Crawl for its help in putting together the event. We are very grateful to the University of Hawai’i Press and MANOA journal for donating copies of Starry Island, in order to raise funds for our volunteer-led, independent initiative to bring Sing Lit to New York. Starry Island is available in New York City at St. Mark’s Bookshop, the Brooklyn Book Festival (Table 215), and the Singapore Literature Festival in New York (Oct 10 – 12, 2014).