Returning for its 13th year from 26-30 October, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has long since carved out its reputation as hub of big ideas and powerful voices. Armed with notepads and program books, audiences flock across the Festivals’ main program sessions to dissect issues ranging from the impact of BREXIT in Southeast Asia to the fine line between confrontation and compassion, led by a leading authors, artists and advocates from across Indonesia and the globe. Ahead of the Festival’s main program and line-up release in August, we chat to Founder & Director Janet DeNeefe about what’s in store for this year’s five-day event.


UN&T: This year, the Festival’s program revolves around the theme of Tat Tvam Asi, a Sanskrit phrase translated in Bali as ‘I am you – you are me’. How can we expect to see this flow into the issues and ideas discussed at this year’s event?

 JD: You only need to tune into the morning news to realise that there’s never been a more prevalent time for the world to revisit the idea of Tat Tvam Asi. The idea that we are all connected – that to hurt you is to hurt me, that to support you is to support me – speaks of the growing ‘global’ identity and how issues can no longer be neatly confined to the borders we have created.

Our program this year will examine some of the world’s most pressing issues through the lens of Tat Tvam Asi; migration and borders, the construct of identity and what role individuals and institutions play in the formation of this. Of course, it also celebrates the power of literature and storytelling in breaking down the barriers that divide us by cultivating understanding and empathy. The Festival itself is an embodiment of this; bringing people together from all walks of life to share their experiences and build a collective identity.

 UN&T: Anyone who has followed the journey of the Festival will know that last year saw some particular challenges. The cancellation of several events due to Government restrictions had some people questioning the future of events like the UWRF. Have you had any follow-on ramifications from this?

JD: If anything, last year was an affirmation of how important ongoing events like the UWRF are to the Indonesian and international community. The amount of support we received was overwhelming and evidence of just how far the Festival has come from such modest beginnings 13 year ago.

 Of course we’ve had to consider how the issues we faced last year might roll over to 2016. That being said, the overwhelming lesson we learnt from last year is that panellists and audiences will have the discussions they want to have irrespective of whether they’re slated in the program. The UWRF is a forum for all kinds of conversations, and there’s nothing we love and encourage more than watching them flow freely.  

UN&T: You’ve now released your Sneak Peek of authors, along with Early Bird Tickets. Who are you excited about seeing in action this year?

JD: There are so many interesting stories behind the names we released for our Sneak Peek! Anastasia Lin, for example, the reigning Miss Canada who was banned from returning to her birth-country of China because of her outspokenness on human rights issues. Or, Suki Kim, the South Korean investigative journalist who went undercover as a teacher to meet the future leaders of North Korea.

I also love that there’s so many accomplished female faces – the Stella Prize winner Charlotte Wood will be joining us, along with Man Booker Prize short-listed author Hanya Yanagihara and the reigning World Poetry Slam Champion, Emi Mahmoud.

UN&T: Can you give us any hints about people we’ll meet from the full program release?

JD: Hmmmm, what can I say without giving too much away? I’ll make it cryptic: we’ve got a writer whose delicious recipes have fed mouths little to big, a novelist whose books have been a bullseye both on page and the big screen, and a fearless feminist icon who unzips gender stereotypes. Guess away!


Early-bird tickets to the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival are on sale via the website now. The full program and list of speakers will be available from late August.