The Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati is proud to announce the return of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF), Southeast Asia’s flagship literary festival, for its 20th anniversary from 18th-22nd October 2023.
Since its inception, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has served as an essential forum for writers and readers to share their stories and engage in meaningful discussions. To mark this important milestone, the festival has chosen the theme Atita, Wartamana, Anagata: The Past, the Present, and the Future.
The theme is inspired by the Balinese concept of ‘Tri Semaya,’ which is the philosophical view of time as non-linear, circular and collective. It embodies the idea of Atita, Wartamana, Anagata (Past, Present, Future) as inseparable and existing simultaneously. The concept evokes a metaphysical representation of ‘being’ that goes beyond the life of a single individual. It places importance on balance and harmony that weaves a delicate thread that ties humanity together across time and space. It transcends individualism for our mutual sustenance from one generation to the next.
The theme of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival will manifest in a series of compelling programs that serve as a platform for dialogue and exchange. It will cover personal and collective history, spiritual rejuvenation, and the social, environmental, economic, and political contexts of our contemporary world.
The UWRF will, once again, showcase emerging and established writers, artists, intellectuals, cultural scholars, and speakers who will share their vision of history, current affairs, and the future of our world. The festival will also pay tribute to those who have dedicated their lives to building and nurturing our literary landscape, supporting Indonesian and global literature, and promoting literacy.
“It’s important that our 2023 program captures our journey over the past 20 years as a celebration of the literary arts and our ever-growing creative community. It is also a time for the Festival to reflect on what we have achieved and where we plan to see ourselves in the next 20 years,” said UWRF founder and director, Janet DeNeefe.
The Festival was created in 2002 in response to the first Bali bombings, driven by the premise that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Since then, it has survived many ordeals. In 2020, in response to COVID-19, the festival produced a hybrid online event called Kembali 2020: A Rebuild Bali Festival, and in 2021, it organised a festival of offline and online events. Through the lens of literature, the arts, activism, and intellectual discourse, the festival chronicled how the pandemic had impacted people’s lives.
Launched in 2008, the UWRF’s emerging writers program is one of the festival’s most significant contributions to the local literary scene. Many alumni of the emerging writers program have gone on to successful careers after appearing at the festival, and some have already received international recognition, with their works being translated into English and other foreign languages. One example is Norman Erikson Pasaribu, whose poetry collection Sergius Seeks Bacchus and short story compilation Happy Stories… Sort Of, translated into English by Tiffany Tsao, has garnered acclaim.
The Emerging Writers Program demonstrates UWRF’s commitment to providing opportunities for young Indonesian writers. Each year, an independent curatorial board selects up to twelve submitted works of fiction from across the archipelago. These stories are then published in the annual anthology and translated into English. The selected writers are flown to Ubud and included in the Festival program, and the breadth of this experience can be life-changing.
To commemorate its 20th anniversary, UWRF will present a special bilingual Anniversary Anthology featuring selected works from emerging writers between 2008 and 2022. More details will be released in July, along with the first lineup announcement.
In the first week of August 2023, the Festival will open applications for the 2024 Festival’s emerging writers program. The shortlist will be announced in February 2024, and the selected writers will have the privilege of attending a five-week writing workshop before appearing at the 2024 Festival.
The Festival’s 2023 artwork was created by Goenawan Mohamad, one of Indonesia’s leading journalists, poets, and essayists. As the founder of Tempo Magazine, his controversial weekly column, Catatan Pinggir (Sidelines), was one of the nation’s most widely read articles, with the magazine frequently facing censorship during the Soeharto regime. Now in his seventies, Mohamad has reinvented himself as a visual artist specialising in printmaking. His latest collection features a series of intaglios and lithographs inspired by the animal world. For the UWRF 2023 artwork, he collaborated with the Devto Printmaking Institute and received assistance from his granddaughter, Adinda Hapsari, a young graphic designer. A limited edition of the UWRF print will be released for sale in October.
“The commission implies an appreciation of my artwork,” said Mohamad. “Besides, I have been a supporter of the UWRF since the beginning.”
Goenawan describes his creative process as intuitive: “I don’t have specific sources of inspiration. I simply allow myself to connect with the grand and minute aspects of the world, as described in William Blake’s beloved poem: ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour,'” he explained.