15th Annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival Scheduled for 25 – 29 October 2018


Island of the Gods

Despite the threat of a volcanic eruption, the 14th annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival attracted 25,000 attendees across 20 plus events. The 15th festival has been set for 25 – 29 October 2018

Anyone familiar with Balinese geography – and anyone that has been carefully reading the reports in the newspaper – should know that Ubud is actually quite distant from Mount Agung and would not be in the path of lava flows.

Bali candidasa morning tour (1)

Mount Agung (above) as viewed from the terrace of the Bali Asli Restaurant, where I had lunch on my last trip to Bali.

In the event of an eruption, the most likely impact on Ubud would be that volcanic ash might cause flights into and out of Denspasar International Airport to be canceled or delayed.

Nonetheless, that is a legitimate concern, causing a drop in tourism arrivals over the last several weeks.

Having said that, many people that canceled travel plans did so because they didn’t realize just how large Bali was and that the volcano was far from the beaten tourism track. 

Popular travel destinations such as Ubud, Seminyak, Kuta, Canggu, Nusa Dua, and Uluwatu would most likely not be affected.  

The Show Must Go On!

All of that notwithstanding, more than 150 of he world’s leading authors, artists, and performers have arrived from 30 different countries to attend the 14th Ubud Writers and Readers Festivals, which will run from 25  to 29 October 2017.

Over the next five days, the festival will deliver more than 240 events across 30 venues, spanning open-air panel discussions, intimate special events, exhilarating live performances, film screenings, cultural tours, art exhibitions and more.

With the island’s vital tourism industry taking a significant hit due to increased volcanic activity, the Festival – which through audience expenditure on accommodation, meals, transport and shopping injects an estimated AUD $1,000,000 into the local economy – comes as a welcome relief.

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2015

I attended the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in 2015. My repo0rt, published on 4 November 2015, follows:

Organizers were forced to cancel several key events at the 12th annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival because of their politically sensitive nature, with  attendees taking the heat – quite literally.

If the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is one of the most important literary events on the Southeast Asian cultural calendar, the 2015 edition was marred by controversy.

Events were to include panel discussions, literary lunches, yoga sessions, cooking lessons, book launches, workshops, night parties, poetry slams, food tours – the list goes on.

I purchased a 4 day pass thinking that I would have access to all of the events pictured in the marketing materials – except, of course, for events such as luncheons.

I was, therefore, a bit disappointed when I discovered after my arrival that most of the special events and workshops that I wanted to attend weren’t included in the price and that some of the main event sessions, which were included, did not really interest me.

Not only that. Many of the festival’s events that really interested me were free! So I would have been better off attending the free events and cherry picking the ones I was interested in that you had to pay for.

I’m sure I would have saved money – and had more fun.

Cancellation Fears

The 2015 festival was billed as having special significance because it coincided with the 50th anniversary of Indonesia’s 1965 anti-communist massacre.

That was, in fact, a major draw for many attendees, myself included. I don’t know much about the incident, and I was hoping to learn more.

Several events related to that issue, however, had to be cancelled because local authorities said their content did not comply with the festival’s stated mission of being a cultural and artistic event – rather than, I assume, a political one.

At one point there were actually fears the entire festival might have to be cancelled. And then, at the last minute, yet another panel discussion on another sensitive topic had to be cancelled, as well.

“Over the past few days, we’ve been scrambling to get back on our feet and on with the show, after having to cancel a number of sessions surrounding 1965 to ensure our Festival could go ahead,” says the festival’s Founder and Director Janet DeNeefe.

“To now have this extended to the For Bali session at the 11th hour is not only a devastating blow to the people whose voices we were trying to leverage, but raises significant concern about just how much the local authorities want to be involved not just on the 1965 issues, but our entire programme.”

Hot, Hotter, Hottest 

The weather that year was unusually hot, and there were many complaints about the heat and the lack of air-conditioning.

While there was nothing they could do about the weather, surely they could have provided fans.

The shuttle buses also didn’t operate as often as many festival goers would have liked, causing many attendees to have to walk  between venues in the stifling heat or be late for their events.

I would suggest that they run a more frequent shuttle bus between Taman Baca and the Neka Museum, with less frequent shuttles going all the way into town.

The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival was established by Janet DeNeefe as a healing project following the first Bali bombing in 2002, in which 202 people were killed and 209 people were injured. It is a project of the the Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswa foundation.


2 Replies to “15th Annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival Scheduled for 25 – 29 October 2018”

  1. It’s probably never a good idea to get into political issues at a Writer’s Conference not dedicated to discussing such issues. In this case, it distracted the writers attending and angered the host country.

  2. Hi Michael,
    Interesting points about the festival. Yes, hot, hot, hot. Took me several days to get used to it.
    I too got the 4-day pass. When I looked at the photos on the UWRF FB feed after the event, I saw all the wonderful events I had missed!!! (I only attended the regular sessions & one writing workshop.) I wish I had signed up for some of the extra events. I just didn’t have the foresight to do so. It took all my energy just to get to Bali with the 4-day pass in hand.
    Meanwhile, as for the sensitive historical events: they are exactly the type of subject matter writers like to write about. It was unfortunate that the topic was censored. The events in question took place 50 years ago and were not on my mind at all as I traveled to Bali. However, because of the censorship, the topic was on everyone’s mind. I never would have even thought about this Indonesian tragedy if not for the censorship.
    In all, a great event & I’d love to go again!

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