Bali’s Writers & Readers Festival Is Back




Bali’s much-loved Ubud Writers & Reader’s Festival is back!

It’s 19 years since Melbourne-born, Bali-based dynamo Janet De Neefe, established the Festival as a way to help lure visitors back to her island home after the devastating Bali bombings which killed 202 people on October 12, 2002.

Over the years, the Festival has become a magnet for authors, poets, human rights activists and book lovers from around the globe. It’s also become an important forum for Indonesian and south-east Asian writes to share their literary offerings with a captive audience.

The global pandemic stymied the Festival for two long years but now it’s back, held in Ubud on October 27 to 30. But for those not heading to Bali later this month, the Festival has a Perth program this year, taking place at the Rechabite Hall  in Northbridge from October 21 to 23. (Details below)


Janet DeNeefe


Janet chats to The Starfish:How excited are you about this year’s Writers Fest, and what will it mean to locals?

We’re over the moon to be bringing back our beloved Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

For two years we have been navigating our way through this pandemic, and now we are finally returning to our community. We have always played an important role in boosting the local economy and I am sure that the Bali is thrilled to see us in full swing again.

What are attendance numbers looking like at this stage?

In this Post-Covid world, ticket sales are still a tad lower. People are still a little cautious about making the trip here. But we are also using some smaller venues this year so that there will be a lovely sense of intimacy. Just like the old days! It will certainly be a year to remember.



What are some highlights attendees can look forward to?

I am looking forward to the session about President Joko Widodo with Darmawan Prasodjo, Tim Hannigan, and Ari Dwipayana  in conversation with Michael Vatikiotis. He’s been such an impressive, stable leader, I am certainly curious to know more about him.

I am also looking forward to the session about Munir Said Thalib, one of Indonesia’s most famous human rights activists, who was murdered in 2014. His wife, Suciwati Munir has published her account of life with Munir and of the events after his death and will share her story alongside Matt Easton, whose book We Have Tired of Violence, delves into the struggle to bring the ‘real’ perpetrators of Munir’s death to justice.

Carla Power, the author of two Pulitzer Prize Finalists in General Nonfiction, will speak on her new book Home, Land, Security and the complexities of race, language, and the climate crisis with Michael Vatikiotis. This is the type of session that our audience loves.

I am also excited to see Kylie Moore-Gilbert in conversation with Drew Ambrose. I think we all know her story of her fight to survive imprisonment in Iran. In light of the current nationwide protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini — a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman detained by police, this is an event that should not be missed.

Who are some of the writers attending?

This year, we’ve gathered some of our favourite Indonesian authors and creatives, including Putu Oka Sukanta, Kamila Andini, Ahmad Fuadi, Rara Sekar, and Andreas Harsono. International guests include Carla Power, Tim Baker, Audrey Magee, Nawaaz Ahmed, Sequoia Nagamatsu and Osman Yousefzada.



Have you read any books from authors who’ll be attending that you’re especially excited about?

I am excited to see Audrey Magee, author of The Colony, which was on the Booker long-list. I was intrigued by this book, especially because I have Irish heritage. I’m also excited about Nawaaz Ahmed’s book, Radiant Fugitives. Emily Brugman‘s The Islands and Sequoia Nagamatsu’s book, How High We Go in the Dark. I am looking forward to Norman Pasaribu’s Happy Stories, Mostly and books by Felix Nesi, too.

 Tell us about this year’s theme and what it represents.

This October, our authors will reflect on ‘Memayu Hayuning Bawana‘, an ancient Javanese philosophy that refers to humanity’s capacity to beautify our world and strengthen our ties as a collective. In a year that has been difficult for so many, with war and conflict, natural disasters, and political turmoil affecting our lives, we discuss how can we unite the many strands of different cultures and perspectives to create, deeper understanding, mutual respect, and equality. I look forward to these important discussions!



What are some of the topics that will be discussed?

Our speakers will shed light on their latest works and deliver addresses on the issues that concern us all: From environment to religion, feminism to immigration, identity and regional politics with a view on how Indonesia’s place in the world is changing.

You set up this Festival to help Bali recover after the 2002 bombings; as this is the 20-year anniversary since the bombings, it’s quite a significant one, isn’t it? How will this be acknowledged at the festival?

As most people know, the Festival was born of the Bali bombings. We will hold a very interesting panel about this tragedy that I will be moderating. Next year the Festival celebrates 20 years.



Your daughter, Laksmi, is now Miss Indonesia! And we note she’s helping to promote literacy in her country. How did this come about?

Laksmi grew up around the Festival. She hosted and moderated several panels in the past editions, and also created our online Book Club. The UWRF team is so proud that Laksmi chose to promote literacy and Indonesian literature as her advocacy. She has made a lifelong commitment to this cause and it won’t end after her pageant role is completed.

You must be so proud! Will she be appearing at the Festival?

I’m a very proud mother, indeed. Laksmi has always been full of surprises, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she would become Miss Universe Indonesia. Laskmi will be joining the Festival this year in a number of select programs. And then in January she joins the Miss Universe finals.


Janet De Neefe will be in Perth as part of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival Perth, a partnership event, on October 21 to 23. For details visit 

For more info on this years’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (October 27-30) , visit

Photo credit images of Janet and Laksmi: Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia