It’s hard to believe that the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is turning 14 this year—but here we are, just one week out from this teenager landing in town once again. The fest began back in 2004, when Aussie expat Janet DeNeefe (and longtime Ubud resident, who also owns the delicious Indus and Casa Luna) decided it was prime time to draw attention away from the horrific 2002 Bali bombings. And what better way than through the very opposite of violence: love! Or, thoughtful literature, exciting art, international speakers, and live music—which all spell love to us.
Well, it worked. UWRF is the biggest festival of its kind in the region—and it keeps on growing. So if you’re a blogger, travel writer, journal scribbler, published poet, shy scribe, or you just really love reading (so, all of us), this is your final warning: you’re one week away from missing the biggest and best writing and reading fest in the land. Don’t sleep on this one.
We hung out with Janet DeNeefe at her beautiful Indus to pick her brain about what goes into UWRF (hint: a lot). The fest runs Oct. 25-29—get your tickets riiiiight here.
The festival kicks off next week. How many people do you expect this year?
Hard to say thanks to the mighty volcano! Before he started misbehaving, we were already 10% over sales from last year. But there’s always something, right?
The festival’s theme is ‘Origins’ this year. Did that resonate with you, as someone who left your home to build a life in Bali?
Oh yeah. In the cycle of life, there’s where you start and end up, but there’s that journey in between. Around the theme, speakers will be looking at indigenous people, marginalized communities, language, geography.
When does the planning for each year’s festival start?
For next year? Right now! I’m already a bit behind—I’m chasing authors for next year. You have to be a little bit ahead, and secure the big names well in advance. And right now, we’re planning the Ubud Food Festival, also. So we’re talking about writers, but thinking about chefs.
What’s new about the festival this year?
We’ve got an absolutely fantastic nighttime program – I wanted to bring theater back into the festival. Lights, cameras, action. So we’ve got great evening acts. There’s Pierre Coffin, an Indonesian who created the voice of the Minions in “Despicable Me.” When I first saw that film, I thought they could almost be speaking Indonesian! And they are! I love it when we bring in those kind of acts – not your standard literary figures, but no less interesting. They create a different sort of spark.
A lot of writers will be speaking about Bali this year, and how it influences their art. How does Bali keep you inspired after so many years here?
This place is really real. It’s very human here—people pay attention to what really matters. Birth, death, marriage, community. In Bali, your banjar is your extended family—that’s a couple thousand people! So you don’t come first. It makes you realize, in the scheme of things, you’re not so important. Bali is all about the collective, so get over yourself.
Writers can often be super shy – all we need is a computer or a notebook. What do you say to those writers to get them out to the festival?
Just come along, you know? If you stay at home, you’re gonna miss the bus. Come out and be inspired. I want to shift the perspective of everyone who leaves the festival, even a little bit. And the stories you hear here will totally throw you upside down.