2019 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival: 8 great events to look out for this year

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti was a speaker at the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Here, she is photographed with BBC Journalist Rebecca Henschke. Photo: UWRF
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti was a speaker at the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Here, she is photographed with BBC Journalist Rebecca Henschke. Photo: UWRF

It’s almost time to welcome the region’s biggest festival of words — next month, Bali’s beloved little jungle town of Ubud will play host to some of the world’s most notable and thought-provoking authors, journalists, artists and activists for five days of event programming during late October. 

This year, the 16th Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) is presenting some kickass speakers and much-needed topical discussions on the state of arts and culture in today’s world — under the Hindu principle of “Karma” as its theme, this year’s festival’s program will explore the idea of how the decisions we make today are shaping our shared future. 

According to UWRF Founder & Director Janet DeNeefe, the speakers who were invited (and being celebrated at the 16th year of the festival) are individuals “who are deeply aware of the consequences of their actions.” 

“At a time when the consequences of climate change are impossible to ignore, and world leaders continue to evade responsibility, we’ll ask what Karma looks like in 2019, and consider the tensions that emerge when we don’t look it squarely in the face,” DeNeefe said in a statement.

Diversity in representation is also key for the festival this year, since “… there’s something in the air right now – a crackling hunger for diverse voices from lesser-known regions, for works in translations by people of color, for stories that open our eyes to worlds completely unlike our own, said DeNeefe.

UWRF’s event programs vary widely — beyond panel discussions and author talks, participants can also take part in book launches, workshops, film screenings and art performances throughout the festival. 

Running from Oct. 23 to 27, UWRF will feature a number of Indonesia’s most prominent names in the arts and literary world, including award-winning author and journalist Laksmi Pamuntjak, film directors Garin Nugroho and Richard Oh, veteran journalists Leila S. Chudori and Maria Hartiningsih, as well as author, artist and gender activist Eliza Vitri Handayani. 

Organizers have also lined up appearances by Lindy West, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and who is also known as a feminist firebrand, plus Chinese-American author Jenny Zhang, Iranian-American writer and religious scholar Reza Aslan, as well as Indonesia’s very own human rights advocate Andreas Harsono. 

There are heaps of interesting events in the schedule this year, but as a primer/cheat sheet for those of you who want it, here’s the Coconuts Bali rundown of the very best and brightest happenings in UWRF’s upcoming program next month. 

 

WOMEN OF WORDS POETRY SLAM

Wednesday, Oct. 23, 8pm-10.30pm 

Photo: Ubud Writers & Readers Festival
Photo: Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

It’s UWRF’s annual Women of Words Poetry Slam, wherein participants can take the stage and explore feminist karma, be it in English or Indonesian, free verse or rhyme. If you’re keen on participating, organizers say registration is at the door an hour before the show. 

 

THE PRICE OF DEMOCRACY

Thursday, Oct. 24, 10.15am-11.30am

Indonesian protesters take part in a demonstration before being dispersed by the police outside the Elections Oversight Body (Bawaslu) in Jakarta on May 22, 2019. (Photo: Bay Ismoyo / AFP)
Indonesian protesters take part in a demonstration before being dispersed by the police outside the Elections Oversight Body (Bawaslu) in Jakarta on May 22, 2019. Photo: Bay Ismoyo / AFP

The panel, which features Indonesian journalists and artists, will be investigating the “price of democracy” in the archipelago. While the theme itself was originally derived from the deadly riots that followed formal presidential election results earlier this year, the question surrounding democracy is perhaps ever-more vibrant in the past couple of months alone, with national headlines ranging from calls for self-referendum in Papua and problematic revisions to the criminal code and law governing the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Listening to these speakers might provide the audience with insights, and arguably: much-needed hope. 

 

HOW CAN BALI SURVIVE?

Friday, Oct. 25, 2.30pm-3.30pm

The Nusa islands are located just to the southeast of Bali. Photo: Dim Dimitri / Pexels
The Nusa islands are located just to the southeast of Bali. Photo: Dim Dimitri / Pexels

It’s a good question to ask, whether or not you’ve been mulling over it recently. Bali might only be a small island of 4.3 million, but the number of tourists visiting it last year was almost four times that number. Can the island survive just by depending on tourism, and if so, how would that actually look like? There are concerns about the economy and its adverse effects on the environment, among others, that need some real answers — perhaps this is where some of them will start. 

 

FILM SCREENING – KUCUMBU TUBUH INDAHKU (MEMORIES OF MY BODY)

Friday, Oct. 25, 8pm-10pm

Poster: Fourcolours Films
Poster: Fourcolours Films

Just this week, it was announced that Garin Nugroho’s Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku (Memories of My Body) has been selected as Indonesia’s open submission to compete in next year’s Academy Awards. Kucumbu recounts the life story of a lengger dancer in Central Java named Juno (Lengger is a genre in which male dancers can assume female appearance). So here’s an opportunity to see it on a big screen if you didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters. 

 

BEHROUZ BOOCHANI AND OMID TOFIGHIAN: NO FRIEND BUT THE MOUNTAINS

Saturday, Oct. 26, 9am-10am

Behrouz Boochani. Photo: Instagram
Behrouz Boochani. Photo: Behrouz Boochani/IG

One of the headlining appearances at this year’s festival is Kurdish-Iranian journalist and author Behrouz Boochani, who will be joining the festival via livestream as he is still being held on Papua New Guinea’s controversial Manus Island, where he has been in detention since 2013. 

Mentions of Boochani have been sweeping across the Australian literary prize landscape, and he won the country’s National Biography award in August for his book No Friend but the Mountains, which recounts Boochani’s journey from Indonesia to Australia by boat, and his subsequent imprisonment on Manus Island by the Australian government, which has continued to refuse him entry. He will appear at UWRF via livestream, where he will be talking about the global refugee crisis as well as how WhatsApp (which is how he wrote his award-winning book) and technology like it can help change the world. 

HOMEGROWN HEROES

Saturday, Oct. 26, 3.45pm-5pm

Poster for superhero flick 'Gundala', written and directed by Joko Anwar. Photo: Instagram/@jokoanwar
Poster for superhero flick ‘Gundala’, written and directed by Joko Anwar. Photo: Instagram/@jokoanwar

It’s definitely an exciting year for Indonesian films, and some of that success is thanks to the country’s own superhero flick, Gundala. The movie, which premiered in Indonesia on Aug. 29, also marked the beginning of Jagat Sinema Bumilangit, or the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (BCU), Indonesia’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe. (Check out our sister site Coconuts Jakarta’s article explaining the BCU). Is it time for Indonesia’s homegrown heroes to shine? This panel is set to dive deep into the possibilities. 

 

REZA ASLAN: GOD: A HUMAN HISTORY

Saturday, Oct. 26, 11.45am-12.45am

Reza Aslan. Photo: Facebook
Reza Aslan. Photo: Reza Aslan/Facebook

Even if you haven’t yet read Reza Aslan’s “God: A Human History,” we think there’s still a lot to be gained from attending this event and hearing Aslan’s insights into aspects of global faiths, both human and divine, in person. In the book, Aslan describes the innate desire to humanize God as hardwired in our brains, in reference to how humans have tried to understand the divine by giving it human traits and emotions throughout history. He explores that idea as part of an effort to understand spirituality, something that many of us, arguably, are indeed still seeking. Should be an interesting one to check out, whether or not you consider yourself a religious or spiritual person.

 

LIFE AFTER #METOO

Sunday, Oct. 27, 9am-10am

Darth Vader has officially come over to the light side as he too joins the Jakarta Women's March. Photo: Coconuts Media / Andra Nasrie
Darth Vader has officially come over to the light side, as he too joins the Jakarta Women’s March. Photo: Coconuts Media / Andra Nasrie

Last but not least: The #MeToo movement has been described as being an “unprecedented” social phenomenon, and the waves that it made across the world opened up a whole new healing chapter for victims of sexual assault, changing the ways we talk about, discuss and confront gender and power relations. At UWRF, feminists from Indonesia, Australia, Pakistan and Turkey will convene to discuss life after the initial growth of #MeToo.

***

Tickets for UWRF are currently on sale, and four-day passes (main programs start on Oct. 24) are IDR4.4 million (US$312) for international participants, IDR 2.2 million (US$156) for KITAS holders and participants from ASEAN, and IDR 750,000(US$53) for Indonesians. There are also day-passes available, and you can find more information on the website here.

 

2019 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival
From Oct 23 to 27
Various locations across Ubud
Full schedule here

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