S’pore writers not happy over NLB controversy

S’pore writers not happy over NLB controversy
The penguin meme that has been circulating in social media. Photo: Alan Seah
Novelist/playwright Ovidia Yu resigns from the Singapore Writers’ Festival steering committee, others are boycotting an NLB panel discussion on Sunday
Published: 2:17 PM, July 11, 2014
Updated: 7:07 PM, July 11, 2014
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SINGAPORE — Is a bit of an understatement. Ever since the news broke about the National Library Board (NLB) pulling out (and deciding to “pulp” or destroy) the books And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express and Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families because of complaints from members of the We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore Facebook group, social media has been buzzing like mad with the spread of the penguin meme (see above) and also some strong reactions, including from Singapore writers.

Novelist/playwright Ovidia Yu announced her resignation from the Singapore Writers’ Festival steering committee, citing the NLB being a programme partner as the reason.

Poet Felix Cheong, TV writer Prem Anand, graphic novelist/poet Gwee Li Sui and fictionist Adrian Tan have all decided to boycott a panel discussion they were supposed to have at the NLB on Sunday titled Humour Is Serious Business.

So yes, apparently they’re not laughing anymore.

Other statements and comments from other Singapore authors have also been floating around Facebook.

Fellow poet Ng Yi-Sheng encouraged fellow writers to bring up the topic of the book pulping if they get invited (and accept) invitations for NLB events.

“They could have chosen a compromise solution, such as putting the books in Adult Lending, or even the Reference Section. They didn’t. Don’t think they won’t do the same again,” he said.

Young Artist Award recipient Cyril Wong voiced his frustration. “As a queer writer, I think I have reached a limit of some sort, in the light or dark of recent events. I don’t know why I’m bothering anymore. By sometime next year, I’m just going to stop; yes, stop publishing, stop working with governmental organisations, even stop writing.”

Fellow YAA Alvin Pang had earlier written a lengthy note expressing his concern.

“As a Read! Singapore author and Singaporean writer who is frequently called upon by the NLB as a resource person, and also as a concerned parent, I am disturbed by the recent withdrawal of two books from the Children’s section — made at the request of a member of the public, but without, it seems, any broader consultation or consideration of alternative measures.

“I am concerned that the National Library is moving away from its mission of encouraging more (rather than less) engagement and learning. I am concerned that we are reducing opportunities for Singaporean readers and families to explore ideas and discover possibilities at their own discretion and pace. I am concerned that we have started down the slippery slope of seeing books not as conversations, reflections or observations, but as crude instruction manuals or advertorials for particular kinds of thought or behaviour. This is a serious impoverishment of what books are and what knowledge means, and it can only harm our intellectual development and broader social discourse.

“This is at odds with the spirit of the National Library I have grown up with, come to love and continue to support. The best thing any library can do to serve society is to be resolutely neutral in making accessible the world’s available knowledge. It should stay on mission and open possibilities, not close them.”

The Singapore Review Of Books website also issued an editorial.

“The biggest questions we must ask of this recent episode is: if the library, our once-dependable repository of learning and bastion of bibliographic refinement, can betray books for a few brownie points, and devalue these books with such ease in the public decision to destroy them, then what good is all the hue and cry over our students’ inadequacies? What good is academic excellence when they will soon have nothing left to read?” it asked.

“The reality is, this is no longer merely about book banning; it has crossed the threshold to take on the spectacle of a pyre…from which no hope may rise.”

“I’m up for any collective action by Singapore writers,” said Alfian Sa’at. “We can boycott NLB events, dissociate ourselves from the NLB. And instead of hiding behind a vague ‘pro-family’ stand, our stand is precise and clear: We are against censorship, an opaque bureaucracy and the destruction of books.”

“I will never participate in any NLB event in my capacity as a writer or artist until the NLB apologises for this awful wrongdoing and this affront to knowledge,” said Tania De Rozario (erm, but not on FB but on SMS).

And back when Felix was still laughing about it, he had a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the events.

“NLB, the theme of your READ Singapore festival this year should now be ‘books I find most offensive’ instead of ‘books I find most meaningful’,” he began, before demanding they remove books by lang leav.

“Her poetry is not only idiot-proof but also highly resistant to creativity. Her ideas about love are detrimental to this new nation whose moral fibre is so thin, we can’t wear it without showing our sheer hypocrisy.

“I find such ‘poetry’ offensive in our pro-family world where one-size morality fits all. It would not do, it would not do.”

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