The Ubud Writers Festival is round the corner, and many WA bookworms are readying to wing their way to Bali for this celebrated event.

Despite the recent rumblings and splutterings on the island’s sacred Mt Agung, organisers of the popular literary festival say the show will go on.

Festival founder, Janet de Neefe chats to The Starfish from Bali:

Who are you excited about who’s heading to Ubud?

I’m excited about the entire Festival in every possible way, every year!

I am especially excited about Pierre Coffin because I have been chasing him, in the nicest possible way, for a number of years and we will all finally get to meet him. The world probably doesn’t know that the hugely successful series of Despicable Me  films were co-created by this super creative young Indonesian-French guy!  I am also excited we are honouring his mother, Nh. Dini, with our Lifetime Achievement Award, and that she will receive it with her son present.

You’ve also got some top crime authors?

Scottish crime fiction kingpin Ian Rankin is one of our headliners, and he’ll be appearing in two Main Program sessions – an in-conversation with Nury Vittachi, who is himself a comedy-crime writer, and another panel dedicated to crime fiction. This panel, Crime Fiction Club, also features Australia’s Jock Serong and Jane Harper. It’s sure to be a Festival highlight!



What’s the theme of this year’s Festival and how does that tie in?

The theme this year is ‘Origins’, from the Balinese Hindu philosophy, ‘Sangkan Paraning Dumadi’. At a time of great global unrest and political turmoil, this year’s theme compels us to consider the biggest picture – to contemplate not just our connections from person to person, but as a part of humanity as a whole.

As Ian Rankin says, “All crime fiction boils down to is, ‘Why do humans keep doing these terrible things to each other?’ It’s a very easy question to ask and an almost impossible question to answer.” Almost impossible, yes, but at UWRF17 we’re still going to try!



You’ve also got some well-known human rights activists attending, like Andreas Harsono (recently seen on Four Corners here, talking about the new planned Trump development at Tanah Lot). What’s he planning to talk about?

Andreas Harsono is a seasoned UWRF speaker, and we’re always grateful when he can return. He’ll be very busy this year, appearing on three Main Program panels and also conducting an investigative journalism workshop. He’ll be sharing his expert insights into Indonesian politics and current affairs, in conversation with local journalist and photographer Rio Helmi, and  he’ll be on a diverse panel of Indonesian writers, artists and activists.



Indonesian writers are becoming an ever-more important part of the Festival.  Who are some of your favourites (whose work can be read in English)?

Celebrating Indonesian literature, writers and artists has always been the foundation of the Festival. Our primary aim is to share Indonesian literature with the world. It’s hard to narrow it down considering we have 80+ Indonesian speakers this year, but I recommend the work of Leila S. Chudori, Intan Paramaditha, and Bali’s own literary icon Oka Rusmini – her book Dance of the Earth is a classic.



Any other stand-out events we’d be foolish to miss?

We have a stellar After Dark program this year packed with powerful performances. One that you should definitely not miss is Rocking Against Prejudice on the Saturday night. Readers may have heard about this incredible all-girl metal band from West Java, Voice of Baceprot, who are smashing stereotypes of Muslim women. They’re three young students who perform in headscarves and can really play their instruments! They really are rocking against prejudice and have rocketed onto the world stage. I cannot wait to see them in action.

As ever, we’ve got a sumptuous selection of Special Events. My top picks are the Literary Lunch with Jung Chang, and the Long Table Lunch at Nusantara by Locavore. Locavore is Indonesia’s top-rated restaurant, and the Long Table is a perennial Festival highlight. You never know who’ll be sitting next to you!


Last year you had a few Americans on panels, talking about Trump. None of them believed he’d make it to The White House. Will there be more US commentators this year reflecting on how it’s all going so far?

We like to shake things up and keep things fresh. This year is the 50th anniversary of ASEAN, so there’ll be a big focus on regional geopolitics.

Since starting the Writers Fest 14 years ago, you’ve now added an annual Food Festival. Can you tell us a little about that?

Our sister event, Ubud Food Festival, was born out of the UWRF Kitchen Program, which features the Festival’s culinarily-inclined speakers whipping up recipes and sharing stories behind the dishes. This year’s Ubud Food Festival was the third instalment, and in just three years it’s evolved into Indonesia’s leading culinary event. A three-day culinary adventure with Indonesian food as the star, Ubud Food Festival is all about sharing Indonesia’s extraordinarily diverse and delicious food with the world. If that tempts your tastebuds, be sure to join us next year, from April 13 to 15.



The 14th Ubud Writers & Readers Festival runs from 25-29 October. Head to for all the info.




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