Around the world, there are numerous literary festivals that bring together writers — well-known and emerging alike — and their readers, which intend to trigger intellectual discussions between them, including the famous Edinburgh International Book Festival in the UK. But it turns out Indonesia also has one that has been dubbed as one of the best: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.
Founded by Janet DeNeefe as a response to the 2002 Bali Bombings, the festival is now entering its ninth year. Taking Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novel “Bumi Manusia” (“The Earth of Mankind”) as the theme, DeNeefe, who is also the festival’s director, said there would be a “stronger focus on Indonesian literature this year. We will be celebrating Indonesia in many ways from literature to cuisine.”
With a great amount of diverse programs, this year’s festival can be considered as the biggest. “We have not only incorporated a record lineup of Indonesian writers, just under 40 in number, but extended our invitations into China, Myanmar, Norway and Finland — there’s a veritable United Nations of nationalities involved,” said program director Jeni Caffin. “It’s an absolute testament to the universal power of story and the importance of a shared dialogue that knows no geographical borders.”
The main events in this festival consist of talks with writers, where discussions range from essays to young adult genre to even “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its impact on quality literature. Not to be missed is the offering of special events where you can hang out with literary stars. You can choose whether you want to see the musician Nick Cave reading his acclaimed fiction works, share cocktails with the Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides, or have lunch with former president of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta who also revels in the world of literature.
The festival indeed has an impressive line-up. “We are not a festival that worships celebrity and courts the über-author. Unless, of course, they are truly majestic figures,” said Caffin. Asked about how the festival managed to invite all these bigwigs to Ubud, she answered, “They spend six nights immersed in the world which sustains, nourishes, inspires and rewards them: the world of words.” Nevertheless, she also admitted, “We are not ashamed to beg, bribe, and bargain. Whatever it takes.”
Aside from these internationally-acknowledged writers, UWRF also has a mission to introduce Indonesia’s emerging writers by giving them a venue to discuss about their works. “Our vision and mission is to create opportunities for Indonesian authors and we are thrilled to be meeting this goal while providing important networking opportunities between east and west,” said DeNeefe.
These Indonesian writers are chosen to give them a huge opportunity to make their voices heard in an international literary event. “There is nothing but good to come of this: fledgling Indonesian writers, of all ages, have powerful stories to tell.”
Even more exciting are the cultural workshops, which will be moderated by experienced writers in their respective fields. For aspiring novelists, there is a workshop on how to revive that lost plot you sometimes encounter mid-way through writing a book. Or if you consider poetic expressions to be your forte, you might want to sharpen your skills by attending one on performance poetry. Constantly finding yourself in a writer’s block? There’s the so-called Writer’s Bootcamp, that is “designed to rid you of the bad writerly habits and behavior holding your stories back.”
Aside from the more erudite offerings above, there will also be an Art and Food Market next to the main venue of the festival, where the visitors can savor miscellaneous selections of Indonesian food and crafts — batik, painting, sculpture, jewelry — from local artisans.
The market will also host the Rumah Baca, “where pass holders can lounge with a coffee or a glass of wine and meet some of our featured writers one on one, or become more familiar with the works of the great Pramoedya Ananta Tour [through] daily readings of his work in Indonesian and English language,” enthused Caffin.
Book launches will also be included in the middle of the festival. DeNeefe herself will launch a new cookbook, “Bali: the Food of My Island Home,” as well as a compilation of her articles in various publications, which “includes musings on my life in Bali, with reference to local food, culture, ceremonies and the occasional foible.”
Asked about her vision for Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in the future, DeNeefe said she would want to launch a number of Indonesian writers’ awards to assist and reward talented local authors. She would also love to find support to translate local works and see them featured in the global literary circles. “One day we will find a committed sponsor who will fulfill my dream,” she said optimistically.
At the end of the day, it is all about the writers, readers and their love for literature. As Caffin said, “It is our job, as a festival, to bring writer and reader together and celebrate the synergies and possibilities of thought and action that may result.”
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2012
October 3-7, 2012
Check out www.ubudwritersfestival.com for tickets and further information.