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Through Darkness to Light: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2013

The Ubud Readers and Writers Festival opened for the tenth year on October 11th with an all female gamelan orchestra. The theme, ‘Through Darkness to Light’, is inspired by the work of Raden Ayu Kartini, a national heroine and pioneer of women’s emancipation in Indonesia. The focus on women was carried throughout the main programs with women writers from around the world. Panel sessions on women’s rights, education and health featured speakers such as Robin Lim, midwife and CNN Hero of the Year, Lebanese writer Iman Humaydan, and Australian journalist Anne Summers. The Festival Founder and Director, Janet De Neefe opened the 2013 UWRF with a look over the past ten years, with highlights and memories of the authors who participated during the last decade and a look into the future of the festival and literature’s role in Indonesia. Goenawan Mohamad, an ardent supporter of UWRF since the early days, spoke of the festival’s past achievements and how it is Indonesia’s largest and longest-running international festival. It would be impossible to list the numerous special events and authors at the (more than) forty venues across Ubud. There were 75 panel discussions held daily at three main venues, eighteen book launches, fifteen literary workshops and six film screenings.

Leila S. Chudori had excerpts read by actress Adinia Wirasti from her highly acclaimed novel Pulang (Coming Home). When Chudori published Malam Terakhir in 1989 she was hailed by critics as the golden child of Indonesian literature. Her work as a journalist interrupted her literary career. She did not publish again until 2009 when she presented a collection of short stories, 9 Dari Nadira. Her stories have recently been published in English under the title The Longest Kiss, from which Leila read for us.

Metta Dharmasaputra, investigative reporter and former business Editor of Tempo, spoke about the incredible story behind his best-selling novel Saksi Kunci (Key Witness). This account of corruption and the largest tax evasion in Indonesian history took six years to complete and followed years of fine journalism from this talented, intrepid writer.

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2013

Cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher, poet, and lecturer Michael Leunic spoke on “The Vulnerability of an Idea”. He creates a complex range of emotions in a single image and explains the importance of having ideas that never make it to the page. He shows us how ideas are nurtured by cultivating our primal innocence, which most of us deny and repress. His work explores the idea of a sacred personal world and the fragile ecosystem of human nature.

The Elders featured Cok Sawitri, an outspoken Balinese leader and Bilawara Lee, an elder of the Larrakia Nation of Darwin, Australia. These women discussed the changes, culturally and socially they have witnessed during their lifetimes in their communities and neighbouring countries. The women led an active discussion on our similarities and shared advice for future generations.

The guru of travellers and Lonely Planet co-Founder, Tony Wheeler launched his book Dark Lands at Casa Luna to a full house. He shared his latest adventures visiting the world’s darker corners. His book is an attempt to understand what changed these places. He returned to Pakistan where he spent much of his childhood and has had a long love affair with. He said, “Pakistan is a country which has everything going for it but nothing works.”

Despite the fact he was there during intense anti-American rallies with signs everywhere reading ‘Kill Foreigners’ and ‘Death to Americans’, the people were warm and friendly. Wheeler found the same throughout his travels to these areas full of anger and hatred toward foreign elements. The Congo inspired him with its gorillas and great volcanoes. Wheeler stated it has been subjected to the curse of its wealth in ivory, copper, gold and diamonds. He was arrested there for taking photos of a bar. From North Korea’s National Stadium where Tony was thrilled by the Army displaying its dance moves; to Palestine where he was inadvertently struck by stones thrown by youngsters, he was moved by the hospitality and generous hearts and minds of the people he encountered.

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2013

The UWRF Poetry slam was not as stimulating as last year, but it still was a favourite event, inspiring hoots and groans from the audience. Excellent deliveries were presented in Indonesian and Malay. Some judges refused to pass judgement on them as they did not understand the words. There was little ‘slamming’ or ‘rapping’ of words. The winning poem was about the erotic love between women; graphic and heartfelt. There was poetry of life in Ubud and much about the angst of love and modern life. Pablo, the 2011 winner, came in third with a moving poem, Eulogy, about loss and acceptance. The event was hosted by Australia’s current slam champion, C.J. Bowerbird who kept it all together in a humorous manner. One of the outstanding talents was the music presented by Ka Mau. He played diverse music from different time periods in perfect response to situations, keeping a lively beat and much laughter going throughout this celebration of the spoken word. Big respect to all participants for their bravery and fine words!

There are so many events, programs, discussions and book launches, it is impossible to see it all. What this festival is always guaranteed to offer is a lively exchange of ideas and insights. Intellectually stimulating people from all around the world come together and communicate ideas on issues of vital importance. It is a festival of literature from all walks of life, rich in diversity and creativity. UWRF never fails to present new and challenging ideas, bringing people together through the power of words.

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