Notes from Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2015

Submitted by mumunmumun on 11 November 2015   •  Blog

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This year, I attended the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2015 for simple reasons. I was curious and Vira did a great job marketing the event. It’s been running for 12 years and I thought might as well give it a go. At the festival, I was enlightened and educated. Aside to the story behind it written by Vira here, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2015 had more layers to it. This 2015, it had a little more drama. And I do enjoy a little drama.

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014

Enlightened by International Writers

I don’t know most of the guest speakers as I’m not a big book worm. Vira and I joked much about being ‘illiterate’ compared to those attending. Nonetheless, it’s not impossible to learn something from someone you just knew, let alone from someone who has achieved a successful writing career. So, I picked up a thing or two just by attending each forum. It was about people and their stories, and I’m inspired to focus more on stories.

I was particularly happy just to see Tony Wheeler in the flesh and Raditya Dika, as I think he’s comic writing is smart and he’s adorable.

Seeing Tony Wheeler

I was also enlightened by the readers, being the people that attended the festival. I saw more people listen to the panel, no matter how boring it could get. It’s been a while since I attended a seminar or conference with people really listening and not play with their gadgets. Not saying that I entirely let go of my smartphone, but I let go pleasantly less that I usually do. I realize, it’s a rare occasion and I liked it. It took me back to the time where phones weren’t smart and boredom could be the source of new found inspiration. Maybe, I had been going to events that were very much on social media, hence the gadget holding was permissive. So, this was a great change.   

However, it brought me to my next question.


Who was the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival for?

As I glanced through out each session I attended, I didn’t know who the festival was targeting. To be honest, I didn’t know the intention of UWRF to begin with, so I tried to draw some assumptions in between the sessions. Half of the attendees look like elder people, some were grown ups, and the rest were young people. Knowing the pricing of the festival is a bit steep for non-fanatic readers, I reckoned the festival must be targeting hardcore readers. I also assumed the UWRF was for people in their writing process looking for inspiration, aside to die hard fans of attending writers.

The audience of UWRF 2015

After knowing its initial purpose, UWRF did its task by bringing people to Bali, post bombings. It probably also achieved its goal of being one of the beacons of literature discussion in Southeast Asia. About what books were discussed, I guess every year there’s a theme which can allure different crowd.


Session Cancellations Involving Topics of 1965 and Bali Reclamation

The drama, of course, were the issues revolving panels about Indonesia’s 1965 era and the objection towards the upcoming Bali reclamation project. Just a few days in the festival a few of these panel were cancelled by the committee due to permit reasons. There seemed to be a mass of disappointment, hoping that finally Indonesia had the guts to talk about these topics, especially in an international event.

Protest at UWRF 2015

Both invitees and participants muttered questions about the reason behind it all.  Rumor on the streets was the issue was bigger than just permits. Pressure from the authority was implied, as well as self censorship. This was all conflicting to the fact some speakers of canceled sessions held their own independent panel around Sanur without any pressure whatsoever. Without elaborating too much, I can only say I too would be afraid if I was in the committee, under such threats and under the microscope. But, as Eliza Handayani has taught me as she spoke out openly about her disappointment towards the committee, we all need a little bravery in our lives. So, this could have been to start talk to speak up. For that reason, I too was a little dissapointed.

Eliza Handayani

Eliza Handayani.

However, I have a hunch that some of the participants didn’t have a clue either. International visitors just for the festival, might not be aware of Indonesian issues, especially as specific as the 1965 issue and Bali Reclamation.


“Are you from the festival?” The waitress asked us.

“Yes, Mbok. Why do you ask?”

“Oh. This year is very quiet. Last year, this (restaurant) area was full with visitors, all day,” she explains with enthusiasm. “We usually look forward to the festival, because it’s more guest even after the high season has passed.”

Oh. Apparently the UWRF did give some impact for the Ubudians. Despite Ubud is nice when it’s quiet and serene, it’s saddens me a bit that Ubud is short of good business, especially tourists that have appreciation towards literature and not just party goers. All have impacts, I guess.   

UWRF 2015


Would I Attend the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2016?

Maybe. Now, I know how everything works, I might go if it was an interesting program, if the condition is permitting. When life is a little dull, not saying that mine is at the moment, a little burst of inspiration is necessary and UWRF just might be it. So, maybe I’ll see you there?


I do want to end this with a question, is it time we spoke out about 1965?  


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Halida A.
5 years ago

Wow! Lucky you, you got to meet Tony Wheeler!
5 years ago

is it time we spoke out about 1965? as I watched on television last night that discuss this issue, I agree with the representatives of the organizations NU who said that we should forgive the sins and mistakes of the past and look forward to the progress of this nation.

5 years ago

Yes we should spoke out more about Indonesia 1965.
If government keep hide from it, then we’re going to New Order (Orde Baru) 2.0 where the history is always made up.


[…] remains a really nice memory. So nice, Mumun and I decided to relive the experience again when we visited Ubud for the UWRF. With our friend Rani on board, we booked a room via Airbnb, which later we found out is called […]