“INDONESIAN arts and literature is the star of the writer’s festival, to showcase them to the world,” says Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) founder and director Janet DeNeefe.
For the 14th year running, Bali will play host to one of Southeast Asia’s most important literary events. UWRF 2017 is set to feature 150 authors from around the archipelago and across the world from the Philippines to Canada, South Korea and Pakistan.
Indonesian literary stars such as Leila S. Chudori, Joko Pinurbo and Nh Dini will be joined by Jung Chang, whose autobiography Wild Swans has sold more than 10 million copies and is banned in China, as well as Saroo Brierley whose memoir was turned into the 2016 blockbuster film Lion.
This year’s theme is “Origins”, which DeNeefe explained to Asian Correspondent means “the need to get back to our shared humanity. Not just focus on big picture, but the biggest picture possible.”
In 2017, Canadian author of Man Booker Prize-nominated Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien will be joined by former UN Person of the Year and Malaysian activist Marina Mahathir as well as Southeast Asia expert Michael Vatikiotis.
Australian writer and Indigenous literature advocate Dr Anita Heiss has previously deemed the festival the “most multicultural, political and diverse event on the literary calendar.”
“Language and translation are always a recurrent focus. Bahasa lokal (local languages) are a particular focus this year,” continued DeNeefe. The UWRF’s Indonesian Emerging Writers programme will be showcased through a bilingual anthology of works in both English and Indonesian.
With authors from everywhere across the country from Sumatra to Lombok, Java and Sulawesi, the organisers have in 2017 also asked authors to translate into their local language.
Accompanying literary discussions, cultural workshops and food stalls at UWRF2017 will be performances from a variety of local acts: the all-hijabi teenaged metal band Voice of Baceprot hailing from religiously conservative West Java, as well as the band Antrabez comprised of inmates from Bali’s infamous Kerobokan prison who are allowed out for three days each month to perform.
“We always like to think of ourselves as a bit of a human rights festival,” DeNeefe said. In 2017, Indonesian human rights champions such as activist playwright Debra Yatim and Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono will participate in a number of the discussions.
Two years ago, local authorities threatened to shut down UWRF due to several sessions about the 1965 massacre of an estimated 500,000 alleged communists in Indonesia. This included a showing of Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Look of Silence.
The Asean Literary Festival in Jakarta has experienced similar difficulties with events on topics controversial in Indonesia such as 1965, LGBTI rights and blasphemy laws, but it proceeded earlier this month with no trouble.
The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival will be held at Taman Baca in Ubud, Bali, between Oct 25 and 29.