Wednesday, April 22, 2015

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Jee Leong Koh

Thanks to Jee Leong Koh for today's piece about community organizing.

Jee Leong Koh is the author of four books of poems. Shortlisted for the Singapore Literature prize, his work has been translated into Japanese and Russian. A new book of poems Steep Tea is forthcoming from Carcanet Press (UK) in July 2015. Originally from Singapore, he now lives in New York City, where he curates the arts website Singapore Poetry and runs the Second Saturdays Reading Series.


Community Organizing

When Paul Rozario-Falcone and I decided to organize the first Singapore Literature Festival in New York last year, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. We were two Singaporeans living in a city that we love, but still keeping close ties to the city that we left. We wanted to connect the two cities in some meaningful way, and literature seemed the ideal vehicle for bringing one home into the other.

The burgeoning literary scene in Singapore is very exciting. More books have been published in the last decade than in the previous four put together. The growth was happening in all the major genres, poetry, fiction and drama. It was a challenge to narrow down our selection of authors to the eventual 14. Over the course of four days in October, Singapore poets, fiction writers, graphic novelists, storytellers and playwrights read their works to appreciative audiences at 92nd Street Y, New York University’s Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, Adelphi University, Book Culture Bookshop and McNally Jackson Bookshop.

To rally the community behind the festival, we started a monthly gathering called Second Saturdays Reading Series. Taking place in different Singaporeans’ homes, including a yoga studio in Flushing, Queens, the series featured both Singaporean and American writers. We were very honored to have hosted Vijay Seshadri, Monique Truong, Martha Cooley, Jason Koo, Joseph Legaspi and A. Naomi Jackson as well as Singapore Literature Prize winner, Amanda Lee Koe, among others. The series is now in its second year and is expanding its offerings to other arts such as film and music.

We are so heartened by the warm response of New Yorkers that we have decided to make the Singapore Literature Festival a bi-annual event. For 2016, we will invite American authors to read their works alongside their Singaporean counterparts. In this manner we hope to deepen the dialogue between the two multicultural and cosmopolitan cities. Literature does not provide only a home, we believe, but multiple and various homes for the imagination.

Readings at 92nd Street Y

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