This October all roads lead to Ubud once again for the now famous annual jamboree of brow-beating, back slapping and shameless self-promotion.
From humble beginnings as a way to kick-start Bali tourism after the 2002 Kuta bombings, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival is now firmly on the literati radar, attracting a wide cross section of established and wannabe authors, poets, media darlings, dreamers and social butterflies.
Ubud and art have always been virtually inseparable; this is Bali’s artistic heartland and it has always had a small but very conspicuous community of foreign painters, poets and part-time philosophers dating back to the early 20th century.
The Festival kicks off with four days of book readings, heated discussions, poetry, workshops and literary lunches, with a little comedy, film, music and dance thrown in for good measure.
There are dozens of events taking place each day in numerous venues – restaurants, hotels, coffee shops and even holistic retreats throughout Ubud. You’ll see convoys of buses, cars and motorbikes making a mad dash from one venue to another, made even more challenging by Ubud’s infamous one-way road system that defies all logic and commonsense.
Make a note of the locations of Indus and the Neka Museum in the Sanggingan area, which host the main events with most of the headlining authors.
The chance to mingle with this stellar lineup doesn’t come cheap. Day tickets start at $100 and four day passes are a whopping $350. Many of the workshops and ‘fringe’ events cost extra but there are many more that are completely free and offer a good chance of glimpsing ‘the next big thing’ in the literary world.
On the sidelines of the festival is a dizzying array of courses and demonstrations to get those artistic juices flowing. There are cooking classes galore, batik weaving workshops, dance, music making, mask painting and public speaking.
Every strand of the literary arts is covered in small scale discussions and workshops. You can learn the tricks of travel writing, how to overcome writer’s block, e-publishing for dummies, script writing sessions, enlist in the writer’s boot camp or wax lyrical at an open mic poetry slam.
There is a whole raft of events for budding young bookworms too. Ubud’s well known Pondok Pekak Library and nearby Campuhan College features a full schedule of cool stuff for kids such as comic book creation, language tuition, creative drama classes, drawing and poetry.
In spite of the starry cast of international writers present, the Festival’s main aim still holds true – to promote Indonesian writing to an international audience. There is a roster of over 40 local writers this time and almost every year a new literary star is unearthed.
Some of the Festival events can be a little too bookish and sometimes border on the pretentious, but it’s a vibrant platform where writers and literature fans can easily mingle together. Some of the discussions can get ‘lively’ and there is always an eccentric mix of characters around the place with lots to say. Even if you are not a big fan of books, the people watching opportunities are second to none.