Bali’s most high-profile international cultural event, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival takes place October 24 – 28. UWRF is a celebration of contemporary writing and related arts, a networking and workshopping boon to regional writers and readers, and a massively effective draw for Indonesian talents into global readership. Now in its 15th gathering, Founder and Director Janet deNeefe is asked to take stock of the festival’s progress.
- Is the festival fulfilling its original purpose?
It has definitely fulfilled its purpose of putting Ubud on the literary map, both nationally and internationally, and of sparking interest in Indonesian literature. People are now sitting up and taking notice.
The Festival was created as a healing project after the first Bali bombings, to draw tourists back to the island. It was to be a platform for Indonesian writers and artists to share their work with the world. Last year, 85% of our international audience traveled to Ubud specifically for the Festival. It’s become an annual pilgrimage for lovers of words and ideas, a meaningful cross-cultural connection.
- Has the festival changed much?
I think the road map of the Festival has remained the same; like ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ What has changed is that it has grown a hundred fold. There is simply more of everything – more panels, more films, more performances, more events, more speakers, more audience diversity and much bigger attendance numbers!
- This year’s theme Jagadhita (loosely translated to English as ‘the world we create’) has a connotation of an individual’s desire to enact positive change in a large scale. Is this activism, Bali-style?
I think Balinese have always been compassionate people and tend to take care of the community in which they live so it’s only natural they are embracing activism in a more public way. Those of the young generation are also questioning their world more than ever.
Balinese speakers who will explore Jagadhita are Saras Dewi (Denpasar philosophy professor, activist and songwriter), Jango Pramartha (founder of BogBog cartoon magazine), and the creator of our 2018 artwork, Budi Agung Kuswara. International speakers include Clemantine Wamiriya (Rwanda), Jill Stark (Australia) and of course our headliner, Ndaba Mandela (South Africa), Neslon Mandela’s grandson.
- Has anything in the festival’s history surprised you?
We have become hugely popular among writers around the world and UWRF is now a Festival many are clamoring to be invited to. That’s a nice surprise. With a huge chunk of our international audience being Australian, we have become true ambassadors in people-to-people diplomacy between Australia and Indonesia. I can think of no other cross-cultural event that achieves this in such a meaningful way.
- Have you noticed some lasting benefits to the immediate community?
Of course, it provides a huge economic boost in a time when tourism is at a low and it has also provided a platform for Balinese people simply to be heard. From cultural to environmental issues, our audience learns more about Bali at every Festival.
- UWRF always feels like so much more than a book fair. Did you expect that to happen?
Some people say the UWRF is really a human rights festival posing as a writer’s festival. And, yes, given that we were born from an act of terrorism, that was always the plan.
- What’s evolved from your umbrella organization, the Mudra Swari Saraswati Foundation?
Part of our Yayasan’s mission is to help young Indonesians to reach their potential through educational programs. Proceeds from ticket sales are used to cover free workshops for local children, high school students and their teachers, and to subsidize attendance of local residents who could not otherwise afford to attend. We’re proud to offer our Children and Youth Program for free each year.
Finally, for those in need, we conduct workshops, and provide books and writing and art materials, as we did for young Gunung Agung evacuees last year.
After the recent deadly earthquakes in Lombok, we’ve held fundraising events, and when people purchase Festival tickets they have the option of donating to local NGO IDEP Foundation’s Lombok Earthquake Emergency Response.
- Art and performance events still a festival mainstay?
There are of course many free music performances planned, and we have a new area on the festival grounds dedicated to poetry and artistic expression. One of our nights will be a musical exploration of our theme.
- What has your emerging writers program accomplished?
As one of our 2016 Emerging Writers, Azri Zakkiyah, declared, “UWRF was like the first link in my international writing journey. It makes me feel like I am a true international author.”
Our Emerging Writers program has helped launch the career of many young Indonesian writers. The fact that we translate their work for our Annual Bilingual Anthology has spotlighted many writers from remote regions who would otherwise remain relatively unknown internationally. Emerging Writers really is the flagship program of our Yayasan. If readers would like to be involved, and help a young Indonesian share their story with the world, then please consider being part of our 2018 Indonesian Writers Patron Program. Spaces are still available. Contact our Partnership Manager Saraswati Ratnanggana via email@example.com for all the info.
- What’s the state of publishing in Indonesia today and where does UWRF fit in with that?
I think it speaks volumes that Indonesia is the focus country at the London Book Fair next year. Most Festival visitors in the early days said they knew nothing about Indonesian writers, and this has slowly changed over the years.
- Any new venues this year?
We’re excited to be working with DUMBO, the new little sister of Elephant, which is very close to the Festival Hub. DUMBO is hosting a Book Launch and an Art Exhibition. Check the website for all the details!
Bali Advertiser readers can save 20% on the 4-Day Pass by entering the promo code MPBA at the online checkout. The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival runs from 24-28 October. ubudwritersfestival.com | @ubudwritersfest | #UWRF18
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