Adventures in literature: 2016 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

This is probably the latest blog post on the Ubud Writers Festival you’ll read this year, um, but better late than never? The tagline for this blog, though it’s a bit hidden with the new site, is Adventures in Literature and this year I had a chance to literally go adventuring with a trip to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. For those of you who are unaware, the festival runs annually in Ubud, Bali. It’s a four day festival and gathers together writers, performers and publishers from all around the world. I was able to tie in some of my university work with the festival, so I didn’t feel too bad about going away during semester. Here’s some thoughts, quotes and great moments from the four days.

  1. Magda Szubanski: “Don’t know, don’t care” – in response to a question on whether or not male comedians were intimidated by her writing (and thatubud-wrf2016 of other female comedians). I saw a lot of Szubanski in the course of the first day and I found her to be thoughtful, smart and expressive. She spoke about the pressure on her to write a comedy memoir, which is understandable, and how when she thought about it the book she wrote Reckoning, was the one that was in her heart. She also spoke about its being wrapped up with her coming out and what that meant for her.
  2. Charlotte Wood: “It’s the lack of anger that perpetuates it” – on the “deep belly” anger that fueled her latest novel The Natural Way of Things. I go out of my way to see Wood as I find her to be a wonderful speaker on the process of writing, as well as the big picture her novels are placed in. She said if she thought too closely on ideas of misogyny she became paralysed, her best way to write the book was to focus on the characters. It was comforting to hear her say that each book teaches you how to write it  and that it’s a process you have to learn over and over again.
  3. Hanya Yanagihara – “As a writer I’m asking questions that keep me awake at night, not because I think writing the book will answer them but because I want to say to the world ‘this is what I’m thinking about, do you think about these things too?'” I didn’t get to see enough of Yanagihara (the author of my latest favourite novel A Little Life) during the festival but when I did I found her every word to be intelligent and useful to me as a writer. Something that stuck with me was her comment that you don’t need to do a lot of research on trauma because there are very few ways for humans to react to hurt. Food for thought.
  4. Books to buy, read and share: There were so many writers with so many amazing books over the course of the four days that I find it impossible to prioritise recommendations. I left the festival with Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan (which I haven’t finished reading yet but find hugely enjoyable) and The Years of the Voiceless by Okky Madasari. I’m also interested in the work of Susana Moeira Marques who read beautifully from her non-fiction book about death, Damon Young whose panel on The Art of Reading I wasn’t able to get to but heard great things about, Ariel Leve, Baz Dreisinger and David Dyer.
  5. This festival is bigger than you think. I mean seriously. I had arranged to meet a friend at the afterparty and it was only when I arrived that I realised when you add up the attendees, presenters, authors and volunteers you’re talking thousands of people. Suffice to say I had trouble finding her. The main program runs all day for four full days across three venues. There’s also special events, workshops, a food program, a cultural program and an after dark program. It’s big.
  6. Respect is free. This is probably the thing that struck me the most. A lot of the people you will meet are either volunteers or are paid not much for a significant workload. Nothing’s perfect but that most events ran smoothly means there’s been a million logistical victories behind the scenes. Most importantly it’s important to respect the hosts. I was witness to an MC being belittled by a panelist and it was hideous. Just be cool.

More about Rachel Watts


    1. A great review Rachel, that captures the spirit of the festival. It was wonderful to meet you there! As an aspiring writer there was great solace in hearing accomplished writers share their own challenges. I would recommend anyone to attend this event – the main challenge being how to prioritse seeing which wonderful speaker when. It felt at times little like a multi-stage rock concert where the best acts are on at the same time and what to do? A nice problem to have…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *