Sunday, October 05, 2008

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2008

Nucleus of the Literary Cosmos
By Janet De Neefe
For The Bali Times
August 8, 2008

UBUD, BALI ~ Welcome to the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival column. Each week we will be presenting you with festival news and selected writings from this year’s dynamic authors.

In five short years, the festival has grown from an idea at a dinner table to a fully fledged international event recognized by audiences, publishers, festival directors, literary agents and writers across the globe. Some say it is the unique setting and intimacy that makes the festival so memorable. Others say it’s the original programming and diverse mix of writers. UK’s Harper’s Bazaar summed it up by declaring us “one of the top six writer’s festivals in the world.” Either way, we have become one of the hottest festivals on the map and have left a literary imprint that is clearly here to stay.

Once again the streets of Ubud will be buzzing to the sound of writers from more than 20 countries, including Australia, Austria, Myanmar, Canada, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Palestine, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Turkey, The Netherlands, the UK and the US.

I am so very excited about the lineup and extremely proud that the festival will be representing some of the freshest, most promising voices of Indonesia and the rest of world.

The theme, Tri Hita Karana: God, Humanity and Nature, is the thread that will weave in and out of the sessions and the full festival program is bursting at the seams with new and exciting surprises that are bound to thrill.

Acclaimed international author Vikram Seth will be this year’s leading star. Seth will discuss his life and travels over cocktails at the Amandari and a literary lunch at The Four Seasons. American writer John Berendt will take us on an unforgettable journey into the lush Savannah of the Deep South with acclaimed true-life murder story Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, at the Maya Resort and Spa.

Dyah Merta leads the emerging Indonesian stars with her debut novel, Peri Kecil Sungai Nipah (The Nymph of Nipah). Dyah’s novel presents a harrowing tale of family intrigue, secrets and betrayal as their home village gets caught up and crushed by the unstoppable wheel of development.

Nature-lover, mountaineer, social worker, anthropologist and educator Saut Marlina Manurung, better known as Butet, will discuss her inspirational memoir, Sokola Rimba, that was published to critical acclaim. Her novel tells the tale of her efforts to bring literacy and numeracy to the indigenous peoples of the forest of Jambi, Central Sumatra.

This year a host of writers from the Middle East will shimmy onto stage, led by the beloved Egyptian author Bahaa Taher, winner of the inaugural Arabian Booker Prize. Poets and novelists from Jordan, Palestine, Turkey and Iraq will join the dessert trail and are bound to deliver powerful words from one of the world’s most divisive regions.

On the South American front, the award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, essayist and poet Alberto Ruy Sanchez from Mexico will be gracing the stage, adding his own brand of inimitable charm and color in a special evening of Mexican literature served with Mexican food and margaritas.

Aboriginal writer, social commentator and land-rights activist Alexis Wright will be talking about her award-winning novel Carpentaria, as will Faith Adiele, a Nigerian-Norwegian writer whose account of being the first black Buddhist nun in Thailand, Meeting Faith: An Inward Odyssey, won the PEN/Beyond Margins Award.

The festival will be raising the red curtain on Chinese writers with the appearance of two dynamic women from the land of the 2008 Olympic Games: Geling Yan and Lijia Zhang. Geling Yan is one of the most acclaimed contemporary novelists and screenwriters writing in Chinese and English today. Lijia Zhang’s spirited memoir, Socialism Is Great!, tells the tale of her life as a Chinese factory worker who grew up in Nanjing, participated in the Tiananmen Square protest and ended up an international journalist.

Leading the rising stars of Asian literature is one of India’s hottest new talents, Aravind Adiga, alongside Malaysian-born Preeta Samarasan and Chiew-Siah Tei. Aravind Adiga, longlisted for the Booker Prize just last week, will be presenting The White Tiger, one of my favorite books of 2008. “Unlike almost any other Indian novel you might have read in recent years, this page-turner offers a completely bald, angry, unadorned portrait of the country as seen from the bottom of the heap; there’s not a sniff of saffron or a swirl of sari anywhere,” said a review in the Sunday Times of London.

Preeta’s debut novel, Evening Is the Whole Day, has been described as “a magical, exuberant tragic-comic vision of postcolonial Malaysia reminiscent of Rushdie and Roy.” Chiew-Siah Tei is a bilingual writer whose first novel, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2007.

The Storytellers Club will celebrate the oldest art form in the world with old-fashioned late-night storytelling to be held at the Casa Luna Festival Club. Our top writers and performers will make themselves comfortable, take the mike and spin exotic tales or unashamed lies in a night of myth, magic and mayhem.

Jalan Goutama in Ubud will become a poets’ lane on Saturday night with a fringe-type event called Down Poetry Way. Readings, recitals, performances and festival antics from our local and international writers will fill the small cafes of this cozy neighborhood road and spill onto the street.

After the success of last year, wine-tasting will again warm the heart and have you laughing and purring with readings from the festival’s most full-bodied and mature writers in an evening called In Praise of Wine and Women.

And for those who love brunch, the festival will dish up an effervescent morning of fried mayhem and sunny shenanigans featuring the event’s most brilliant, offbeat and somewhat unsavory stars in a morning called Brilliant at Breakfast at Terazzo. In the words of Oscar Wilde, only dull people are “brilliant at breakfast.” The festival begs to differ—or perhaps agree.

So stay tuned to the voices of the 2008 festival. Our weekly column in The Bali Times will keep you entertained, informed and begging for more.

Janet De Neefe is the founder of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival runs from October 14-19, 2008. For more details, log on to

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Bali Times of August 8, 2008


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