Singapore Writers Festival unveils lineup amid BooksActually storm

Singapore Writers Festival event in 2019. Photo: SWF
Singapore Writers Festival event in 2019. Photo: SWF

Update: Festival spokesperson confirmed BooksActually not involved in this year’s event.

The irony of the situation was apparent. The Singapore Writers Festival announced a lineup celebrating “guilty pleasures” yesterday just as a longtime partner was drowning in guilt for alleged pursuits of pleasure involving his staff.

But as organizers announced the 10-day, November event, boasting headliners like Tan France of Queer Eye fame and Bridgerton’s Julia Quinn, questions about beloved Singapore bookstore BooksActually were waved away by a moderator. The store, a mainstay of Singapore bookworms for 16 years, was noticeably absent from its activities and speakers, despite being a longtime collaborator.

More than 140 programs are in store for the festival announced hot on the heels of accusations store founder Kenny Leck creeped on the younger women who worked for him, and as 40 Singapore writers called on both the man and store to be held accountable. After this article was published, a festival spokesperson confirmed that Leck was not included in this year’s event as part of efforts to diversify its lineup. He did not comment on the controversy.

“Both BooksActually and Kenny Leck are not involved in this year’s edition of Singapore Writers Festival (SWF),” said Ken Tan, senior director for programming and producing. “We believe in working with a diverse range of writers and this extends to our collaborations with bookstores too.”

Other than BooksActually, the festival had worked with other stores like Woods in the Books and Popular, he added. Closetful of Books is this year’s official festival bookstore.

Happening both virtually and physically Nov. 5-14, this year’s event is presented by the nonprofit Arts House Ltd. The government’s National Arts Council clarified to reporters this week that it was no longer involved in the event and that it did not have an existing partnership with the bookstore formerly owned by the now-radioactive Leck.  The festival is still commissioned by the council.

The scandal which has engulfed the bookstore has sent shockwaves through Singapore’s bookish class, for whom the store was the center of the literary scene. Leck announced Sunday that he would step down from BooksActually and give five employees ownership of the store, which has operated solely online since the pandemic. 

Other noteworthy personalities lined up for this year’s Singapore Writers Festival are Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong, Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, and Sarah Koenig, the host and co-creator of award-winning true crimes podcast Serial. All of them will be at separate online events. 

Advance tickets start at S$16 and went on sale today.

Photo: Arts House Limited
Photo: Arts House Limited

Other stories:

BooksActually to shelve operations a week ‘for sake of mental wellbeing’
BooksActually owner accused of preying on young staff to step down

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