10.7.14

This thing is happening tonight

I'm speaking at the National Library tonight, together with the poet Grace Chia Krakovic, at the following event:
Gender Matters: A Conversation about Women in Writing
7 - 8 pm, Thursday, 10 July 2014
Visitors' Briefing Room, National Library (Level 1)

In this day and age, what do terms like "women's fiction" or "women's writing" mean? What is it like to be a writer who happens to be a woman, in a publishing industry dominated by men? Grace Chia Krakovic and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow will discuss these and other questions of gender and writing, and how it has affected their work.
As timing would have it, this week the National Library is mired in a broader, equally serious and not entirely unrelated controversy about its apparently kneejerk "withdrawal" of certain children's books from circulation because of a "pro-family" letter-writer. It's heinous, of course, this kind of censorship and Kirsten Han has written a good commentary on it, "NLB should not define ‘family’ and censor books". And as a friend pointed out on Facebook:
... a person who actively lodges a complaint and subsequently urges others to scrutinise the NLB's catalogue is simply known as a "concerned member of the public". While those who are concerned about the encroachment of religious conservatism on secular public space are almost always labelled "activists". Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Speaking of these "activists", there's a Facebook group, Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship. Separately, there's an open letter that I've signed, and you should too, if you care about living in an open and progressive society where different viewpoints and beliefs can coexist alongside each other and be debated openly (there's that word again) and rationally.

There's supposed to be a press conference today at the National Library about this incident. I suspect the National Library doesn't so much have an ethical position on making knowledge, information and ideas freely available to all, as it has a bureaucratic checklist of what books Singaporeans "ought to" read. Despite that,  I'm going ahead with speaking at tonight's event because I think the subject matter is important in and of itself, and also important to be discussed in the context of questions of censorship, fear, problematic definitions and categories, and the power of imagination against that.

I love libraries. Libraries were where I fell in love with stories and ideas, and where the exquisite range of books available --- even in dinky Queenstown Library in Singapore in the 1980s --- was far more what any parent could have afforded to buy. The author Neil Gaiman delivered a wonderful lecture on libraries last year, "Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming", in which he said (among many other things):
Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different. ...

... libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
So tonight let's talk about women's writing, or what the heck that is anyway, and what it's like to be put in a box, and have people tell you what you can or cannot write because of it, and then whether people say others can or cannot read your writing because of it. Technically you're supposed to register for the talk, but I have it on good authority that there are still spaces available --- so please come!

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8.7.14

I went on vacation with a bunch of three-year-old girls

Not intentionally. It just so happened that they were everywhere I went, during a whirlwind trip to France and the UK in June.

First, there was my cousin's wedding celebration near the village of St Laurent in France. Three children were in attendance, the youngest of whom was three.

Kids at the playground

Next I visited some old friends who now live in Canterbury. Their daughter is my goddaughter, and she turned three a few months ago. Finally, I went to see other old friends in London, whose twin daughters were on the cusp of turning three.

All in all, it was an unexpected crash course in the vagaries of the temperament of this age group, interspersed with surprisingly adult conversations in which they very seriously told me about their books, their clothes and various adventures.

Shoreditch

Kids notwithstanding, I was also blessed with good company, good food and wine, and absolutely great weather. London was so sunny, I came back with a bit of a tan.

Next time, I must set aside more time for beachcombing and oysters at Whitstable, Gordon's Wine Bar in London, and more of London's small museums, especially Dennis Severs' House.

Belle and her domain

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