Saturday, September 05, 2009

Some more good reasons to attend the 2009 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

By Stephen Atkinson

SO, you thought it was safe to go to a writer’s festival? Well, the 2009 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) is here to warn you that it could be anything but safe, that it might take you to places you never dreamed of, be confronting, provocative and downright dangerous. Much of this year’s line-up seems handpicked to broadcast the message that the words and worlds of poets, authors, and playwrights aren’t just cleverly crafted, they are geared to change the way you feel and think, to roll off the tongue and poke you in the eye, to remind you that the world of books and writing is still full of surprises.

Many of the authors appearing at the 2009 festival are well established; some are young and just starting out. Some you’ve never heard of. For every writer from far away, such as Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian playwright and political activist Wole Soyinka, or UK author Hari Kunzru—who promises to be a creatively disruptive force this year—there are home-grown voices like those of Seno Gumira Ajidarma, N.H. Dini and Dede Oetomo to absorb you, and emerging Indonesian writers who are intelligent, evocative, witty, and incendiary. And for every Lloyd Jones, Sonya Hartnett or Vikas Swarup—whose first novel Q&A undertook the treacherous journey to Hollywood where it mutated into Slumdog Millionaire—there are writers largely unknown outside their own countries of origin though fêted within their borders.

The UWRF has a mission to introduce audiences to people and ideas that may be currently beyond and below their radar, to expand horizons and open minds to the incredible range and diversity of the world’s literasphere. Here is a small sample, a handful of more good reasons to attend:

Like many artists, Jeet Thayil had to first negotiate the slippery slopes of dissolution before truly making his mark: with collections of poetry in English that problematise what it means to be an Indian poet. At the same time he has collated an ambitious anthology that rescues many great Indian poets from the amnesiac dustbin of obscurity, reeling others in by their gossamer from distant points across the globe. With this fascinating tension between the right to be a poet who happens to have been born in India, and the affirmation of a long and diasporic Anglo-Indian literary tradition, he narrates a trail to the heart of the post-colony, and all who listen will want to follow.

Award-winning Turkish poet and former journalist and lawyer Bejan Matur, whose stanzas are inflected by the rhythms of the disappearing, officially suppressed, Kurdish language of her childhood, is dealing differently with the murmurs of lost words and the memory traces of places well distant from the epicentres of international publishing. Yet poetry, she has suggested, may need buried languages to guide it because, in its ideal state, poetry exists outside or before language, on the cusp of the ineffable.

Pedro Angel Palou Garcia has way more hats than heads. Former chef, university rector, soccer referee, and politician, he is also a journalist, television broadcaster and author of short stories, essays and more than 30 books, including novels and works of Mexican history. Garcia’s readership extends well beyond Mexico, to take in many other Spanish-speaking nations, yet he is little known in other tongues. This of course raises the vexing issues of translation, the tyranny of English, and perceptions of cultural relevance. His presence in Ubud will offer festival-goers a tantalising window onto vast literary territories as yet inaccessible to readers outside the Spanish-speaking world.

Similarly, playwright and stage, television and film actor Marco Calvani is best known in his native Italy. But his plays are fast gaining a reputation for a powerful New European sensibility the themes and concerns of which are drawn from contemporary, cross-border politics and history, not bound to a specific-language community. Accordingly, his work has been translated into numerous languages of the union and performed from Berlin to London and Barcelona to Warsaw. This year, a translation of his latest work, The City Beneath (La Citta Sotto) was also performed to packed houses in New York.

Acknowledging that the thing that drives a writers and readers festival is not the printed word, but the human voice and its cadences, one of the gems of this year’s festival will be a reading of The City Beneath by local and international actors directed by the author himself. This will form one part of the programme of playreadings that will include works by Wole Soyinka and Balinese playwright Cok Sawitri.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Now sit back and enjoy!

The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival runs from October 7-11, 2009. For the full program, special events, workshops and more, go to


Anonymous UWRF said...

Thank you very much for this great piece on this year's Festival. We're genuinely excited about the program this year. The full schedule is now online: a main program with 110 authors and moderators, plus special events, cultural happenings and more than a dozen book launches! Program info can be found here:

We hope to see you in Ubud!

The UWRF Team

Saturday, September 05, 2009 9:11:00 PM  

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