• Abby Alexander

Wrap-up: Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival 2018

This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to go over to Ubud to attend the Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival for the first time. The festival is the biggest literary festival in South-East Asia and attracts both writers' and readers' from all around the world for five days in a tropical wonderland.

It was my first time at the festival and I didn't know what to expect, but I had VERY high expectations. The main festival program was spread our over three venues in the centre of Ubud and promised to bring me 180+ writers from all over the world, which is no small feat. Alongside the main program, which compromised panel discussions, in conversations and spoken word performances, there festival also comprises cultural workshops, book launches, workshops, a dedicated program for children and young adults, a festival bar that comes to life after dark and a series of special events. There is a combination of paid and free events, and prices were on a scale to ensure that local residents, local and international students and international guests could all afford to attend.

The festival not only met, but most certainly exceeded all of my expectations, and I am absolutely in love with it.

I had a festival pass for the main program, which gave me unlimited access to all of the main programming across the four main days of the festival. The first day started with a 'Barong' performance, which is a traditional style of Indonesian dance, followed by a small keynote in both english and Indonesian, welcoming guests to the festival.

Panel: In Praise of Slow at the Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival

This was followed by a panel called 'The Rights Stuff,' where activists from all over the world mused on the current global climate of human rights, and talked about what their own home countries were doing in this space at the moment, which was fascinating to hear about. One of the women, Christine Bader, talked about her time as the director of corporate social responsibility for a global oil corporation and shared some insights about how much she could actually get done in that role. Next up was a panel about 'Seeds of Science' where, once again, panellists from different continents and political persuasions debated the merits of science as a tool for activism and whether it is okay for causes to pick and choose findings. Jane Caro rounded out my day, in conversation with Rosemary Sayer about her latest book, Plain Speaking Jane.

Day Two held a combination of talks about writing exquisite fiction, how to write art, the importance of tackling taboo topics in literature (this was really interesting- some of the writers were from extremely conservative countries and others from reasonably progressive ones, and it was great to hear about the different things they have to consider). From there, I moved over to Neka Museum (one of the venues that played host to the main program) to hear from four foreign correspondents who were from, and who worked in different countries for most of their careers.

I finished off the second day with a panel called 'In Praise of Slow' which absolutely made my day and was one of the highlights of the festival. It was all about the importance of slowing down and giving yourself time and space to look after yourself, which was exactly what I needed to hear.

Day Three began with an in conversation with Gillian Triggs, who has just spent the past five years in charge of the Australian Human Rights Commission. She received a (well deserved) standing ovation at the end of this- from people all over the world who had come to the festival to hear her speak. Next was a panel about writing the small, intimate details of life in fiction, and then another multi-cultural panel about the importance of fostering young minds through writing. Finally, I finished the day with a panel consisting of authors and their illustrators, to talk about how they use their crafts to compliment each others' work.

Day Four was the final day of the festival. Because the days were long and hot, I was getting pretty tired. Instead of going between venues on this day, I picked my favourite venue and just listened to the talks that were on that day, and I am really glad that I did that, as it meant that I listened to things I wouldn't usually seek out. There was a panel called 'It Takes A Village', which was basically a little love in for the village of people that every author relies on in order to be able to write and publish a book. Geoff Dyer came to talk about his body of work, which was incredible, and then authors got up and read to us while we got to relax and eat some lunch. It is amazing how nice it is to just sit and listen to someone read to you. Next was a panel discussion about what makes somewhere 'home' when you come from a multi-country/cultural family. (Spoiler alert- it's where your books are.)

The last day of the festival wrapped up with a panel of authors musing about the concept of Jaghadita. This was the theme of the festival- it's a Balinese concept that translates to 'The World We Create.' The speakers talked about slowing down, environmental concerns, activism, #metoo, family and shared a desire to make the world a better place- which was what the festival did. It made the world a little better.

All in all, the festival was simply fantastic. It was so lovely to explore the theme of 'Jaghadita' and really think about the world you create- not just for yourself, but for your friends, family, and the globe. I will 100% be back for next year's festival.


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