The Bali Emerging Writer’s Festival  is an offshoot of the Ubud Writer’s Festival that focuses on new emerging talent – primarily writers, but also other creatives –  in Bali in particular and Indonesia as a whole. BEWF has as it’s mission to discover and encourage these emerging talents. Ketut Sudiani was a moderator during the latest BEWF, and caught our attention. Rio Helmi talked to her over coffee:

RH: As a BEWF moderator this year and as a person who has had journalistic training, what is your overall impression of BEWF this year?

KS: In general the basic enthusiasm in carrying out BEWF is great. However its potential wasn’t fully exploited. From beginning to end it got a good response, but during the workshops and other public events the audiences were small. SO the impact of BEWF didn’t really get to many people. Yet there were some good writers invited, like Debra (Yatim –ed).

RH: But Debra and those others you refer to aren’t young writers, not “Emerging Writers”.

KS: Yes, but even during the younger writers’ events there weren’t many who came.

Except for at Bentara Budaya, there the audience numbered hundreds. But apart from the quantity of the audience, the spirit of putting on BEWF is a good thing because it balances the activities of the youth. Up to now the youth has mainly focused on music or bicycling and so forth.

RH: A good thing because those other activities are not so intellectual?

KS: Not because they are not intellectual enough. It’s just a different field of interest. So BEWF’s presence completes the picture. I happen to be a member of the Sahaja community, a community of young writers. Usually a community of writers tend to be more artsy, they rarely show off with performances, except for those involved with theater.

RH: Earlier you said that BEWF’s impact was reduced because audiences were low. Do you think that is more a result of a lack of promotion or a lack of interest?

KS: I discussed this with (BEWF director) Kadek Purnami. If we look at it, the BEWF promotional efforts were extraordinary, especially in Social Media. But it’s an interesting phenomena: on facebook, twitter, and so forth it had a great response but for some reason on D-Day very few people were physically there.

RH: Yeah, but that’s a pretty normal phenomena everywhere. On FB loads of people “like” something but those who really interact are few. To respond on social media is easy.

KS: So it wasn’t because of lack of publication but perhaps the public, or more specifically the youth aren’t ready to deal with things which smell of literature or writing.

RH: So a lack of interest?

KS: Yes, a lack of interest. Yet at night it was really busy – because in the evenings there was music, underground bands and so on. It was quiet during the day.

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RH: I think that BEWF is an important thing, and I admire the effort. But I have two questions: one is about appreciation, and the other the effectiveness of social media. Social media can really fool you. This kind of proves it. On social media 300 people say they are ready, but I get ready for 100. What do you think?

KS: Well there were some problems inviting people to these events. I saw two different approaches taken by STIKCom and Bentara Budaya respectively. The audiences were also somewhat different. Bentara used a different approach, inviting people in person, calling them up, and so on.

RH: Well, yes that is the usual MO in the corporate world….. (laughter) But that’s a technical issue.   But coming back to interest, if there is interest they are sure to come, like the music scene you talked about.

KS: The writers community is comparatively more closed, maybe because of the tendency in their world to deal more with text and not directly with the public. But with BEF combining  music, design, and so on gave writers the opportunity to be better know. If a writer is only confronted with himself or herself, it’s more introspective.

RH: Why closed?

KS: Firstly because they have a tendency to be more confronted with themselves, introverted.. Secondly because they mostly write for themselves – that is if they are not directly writing for the media or stage.

RH: Ok perhaps that is a generality, but is there something more specific that you see amongst the BEWF writers that you see? Something caused by culture or something else?

KS: I would say there is. Because several of the writers who were present were really not used to airing their opinions in public, and there are some who simply have difficulties in expressing anything orally but when they put down words in written form it’s good. When they were given the opportunity to appear on stage with those who were not writers, it became obvious.

RH: But that’s quite personal isn’t it? Is there any general cultural trait amongst young Balinese writers, or some influence from their situation? Global trends that have come into Bali are not just economic and industrial etc, but there are also thoughts and lifestyles and so forth. Many clash. Is here a specific impact from all that on Balinese writers and their works?

KS: If you look at what transpired with the high school kid from Karangasem who has already published two novels. For sure her daily life affects her writing. Because she grew up in Karangasem culture shock doesn’t stand out so much in her work because in Karangasem that phenomena is less evident, more isolated. But it is more evident with Eka Pranita Dewi (who didn’t attend BEWF 2014 – ed), how she feels about Balinese culture. The words that appear in her poetry are not far from the daily aspects of Balinese culture, and her sense of conflict at the subordination of women in that context. She is open about it, for example when she alludes to the glamorization of rituals, with words like “whores of the gods…”

RH: In the context of BEWF “background” there seems to a gap between the first female Balinese writers in the past, the ones who broke down the barriers, and those that are now coming up. In relation to this disconnect, you once said that there the evolution of critics in Bali hasn’t kept pace. This is something that…

KS: …is very worrisome. And regarding the gap, in reality there gap spans several a few generations

RH: Worrisome because there is no feedback…?

KS: Yes it is worrisome, I see it as the influence of the Balinese characteristic of “Ewoh Pakewoh” (more or less “reluctant to create a problem”). Sometimes if we if are a little forceful, the undercurrent becomes more a personal matter, it’s not taken as constructive criticism, something healthy and so forth. It’s a bit of a paradox. A writer needs feedback, but because they’re sensitive they take it personally.

RH: But without feedback how does a writer evolve? As if all that they do is perfect. But many of Balinese writers works are in Indonesian. In the national ‘arena’ are they accepted by the critics?

KS: {Yes) I have seen that after attending several open meetings of Balinese writers in the national context. But what I saw is that there is friction between one “clan” and he other, for example the Salihara group and other parties. However Balinese writers are definitely taken into consideration…

RH: I feel that the social awareness that each group in Indonesia has within itself isn’t brought along when coming into contact with other groups or cliques. This seems to happen especially with the youth, and even amongst those who are older (… both laugh). I interpret this as an example of the inability to translate social responsibility from the traditional context to the modern context. Have the young writers of Bali addressed this issue sufficiently?

KS: From what I see, at no great depth. Because what is happening now is influencing what is being written and soon. Nowadays everything is instant, and writing is also influenced by this: as  long it is fast, and there is not attempt to go deeper into the essence. Besides having an idea, if it isn’t researched it’s not easy to transform that, to turn into a written work. Sometimes there are people with a good concept, and their understanding is good, but when it’s put down on paper it is unstructured. So the thought is lost.

RH: Yes well we understand that. But now that the shift in Bali has gone so far, I’m amazed: how come  no one is delving more deeply into this? Nowadays the Balinese youth have a sense of Balinese identity but that’s not really the original Balinese culture. External traits like “Koh Ngomong” (“reluctant to speak out”) or “sing nyak dadi bucu” (literally ‘don’t want to be the corner’ a reference to sticking out in a confrontationally way) are still there, but the cultural content seems to have long gone. Sure, cultural values all change with time. But shouldn’t an author be more sensitive? Are only things on the surface important? Do they not feel any ‘shake up’s?

KS: I think it goes back to the sensitivity thing. A person can write in a deeper way because of their ability to see something which escapes others. Perhaps one person only sees the surface, another sees deeper. There are many factors, or other aspects which are enclosed by other factors: it could be the environment, it could be fashion, it could be the reticence of youth and so forth. Then there are those who write 10 pages and consider themselves to be a writer.

RH: I have difficulties in pointing out the spirit of today’s Balinese youth. You are closer to them, so now I’m asking you. They all seem to be busy with materialistic icons. Is there anything deeper than that?

KS: I haven’t seen it yet….

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RH: Amongst the ‘emerging’ writers of today who, according you  has the most potential to bring these matters up to the surface?

KS: Amongst the ten speakers at this last BEWF who were on the talk shows, there were only one or two writers. But outside of the festival, from that generation there is one called Ni Made Purnamasari who is now working on her degree in the Social Development at the University of Indonesia (before she was doing anthropology at Udayana). What makes her work stand out for me is the depth of what she deals with, of what she thinks about. And a large portion of what she talks about are simple things which often escape our attention. Her poetry is good, her essays and her short stories too. Her short stories often raise questions about Balinese culture, for example in the Batur lake area women have to live by strict codes of conducts, and she asks “Why does it have to be like this?”. I see her as having great potential.

RH: Wasn’t she invited during the first BEWF? Do you think that had an impact on her or not?

KS: I think at the time yes, she was really capable of putting forth fresh perspectives. And she was openly responsive to questions from the audience, for example with responses like “oh, yes that’s possible too”. So she got new perspectives from that. Perhaps there are others who think “oh this is all too complicated” but it’s time we started being more honest and open.

RH: So she gained more  self-confidence?

KS: I think so, yes.

RH: BEWF should be more than just a platform for emerging writers but also a vehicle for further development. DO you think this fourth BEWF has succeeded in developing the talent of the youth?

KS: It’s perhaps not possible to say specifically yes or no. After all it was only a two day event, and it’s impossible to guarantee if someone attends that they will automatically get something out of it. But it should not be discounted because first of all it does give them a platform, and secondly it gives a push to those who are just starting out. So they do get something, although to say that they get recognition maybe is a little too quick, but at least they get considered for the next level. It’s like an  opener, something that pushes them: “Hey, I was invited to BEWF, I can’t just stop there…”

RH: Looking to the future, what do wish for to make BEWF more effective?

KS: I think first of all to be more selective. For example moderators. They are selected long before the event, surely it’s possible to get someone who really grasps the material. There are people attending who have come from afar, what a pity for them if the execution doesn’t come up to scratch. An one hour event is the result of months of preparation. The second thing is to involve a broader audience.

RH: How?

KS: That’s more of technical thing. More proactive socialization for example.

RH: Isn’t there a financial constraint?

KS: Well there’s a purpose for all of this. If it isn’t targeted, then it’s a waste…

RH: For the second thing you mentioned, that involves communication. Is the obstacle not financial?

KS: It’s more of a technical issue, not money. For example you could go to schools and meet with the OSIS (student organization) leaders – all you need is an invitation printed out on paper. Sometimes you need a more conservative approach, go out and get it.

RH: What else?

KS: Another thing concerns themes. The respective themes for the events need to be developed deeper, that will force the moderators to be more focused. In each panel there are three speakers. Clearly their skill differ. If there is no focus then only one person dominates. For example if the theme is comedy, what aspect of comedy is under discussion?

The spirit of cross-discipline is great, but you have to first find what unites them.