Posts Tagged ‘Ubud Writers and Readers Festival’

Bali’s Ubud Writers Festival goes hybrid

October 8, 2021

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival founder and director Janet DeNeefe, shown here in 2019, says Covid has forced the festival to be “braver” and “think outside the box.” (Photo credit: Vifick Bolang)

With travelers entering Indonesia still requiring quarantine, Bali’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival launched in hybrid form Thursday. With Covid easing in Bali, some events, running through October 17, are taking place live on the island, with some in Perth due to the difficulties traveling to and from key festival market Australia, some prerecorded and all available online and on demand, making content available globally. Festival founder and director Janet DeNeefe says the hybrid format presents new challenges after last year’s completely online event, but it doesn’t change the mission.

“We have a purpose,” DeNeefe says. “The writers and readers festival began after the first Bali bombings [of 2002]. It was an attempt to re-flower the community, to uplift the people, to boost the economy, to bring a bit of inspiration, create a platform for dialogue.

“That was how we began. And now more than ever we have to continue because this is what people need right now, some sort of event you can see. With the semi lock-down, there’s not a lot of action on the streets here. So, our job is to create the best face to face event as we can, given the situation. So we’ve become a hybrid festival.”

While it may be easier to get top writers to commit to a remote interview rather than spend hours traveling to appear in person, recruiting has become more difficult in some ways, DeNeefe says. “A good deal of the festival’s attraction is the sheer fact that it’s in Ubud, so you’re in this beautiful location with really warm, friendly, hospitable people, great food, great weather. We have so many wonderful aspects of Ubud that attract people, so suddenly when you’re online, you lose the very magic of the festival in a way.”

The 2021 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival welcomes live audiences after going completely online last year. (Photo credit: Anggara Mahendra)

A restaurant owner, chef and cookbook author before she began the literary festival – later adding a food festival – DeNeefe hopes to restore some magic by tapping into Bali’s innate creativity with an artisans market running during the festival’s two weekends. Many vendors are hospitality industry workers who’ve found new pursuits with Bali tourism largely halted for the past 18 months.

“It’s all a learning experience. Some of the aspects that we have learned about the online festival, we will take into this festival. We’re slowly morphing into a modern era,” DeNeefe says. “Of course it has its challenges, but it’s made us think outside the box and be a little bit braver perhaps as we’re venturing into a whole new territory.”

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Fear and loathing in Bali with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh

November 24, 2019

At the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, Scottish writer Irvine Welsh riffs on writing, aging, privacy, politics and pharmaceuticals.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, contributor to Forbes, columnist/correpsondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

#UWRF19: Richard Fidler uncovers Viking women

October 27, 2019

At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Australian popular historian Richard Fidler told tales from Constantinople, the subject of his best selling Ghost Empire, and Iceland, chronicled in Saga Land with his friend Kari Gislason. Our vision of Norse legend – and that of Marvel Comics movie makers – traces to Iceland,

“In the Viking concept of honor, honor is not something that can be earned. It’s something you must take from someone else. It’s like currency, there’s only so much to go around,” Fidler explained.

“A woman’s honor is as important as a man’s, and she will go to any length to preserve it, including killing the men she loves.” Who knew there were so many Viking women among us?

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes, editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

#UWRF19: Reza Aslan says we’re born religious

October 26, 2019

At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, God: A Human History author Reza Alsan declared, “The religious impulse dates back to before our species exists.” Evidence of organized religion goes back 14,000 years, but evidence of religious impulses, such as cave paintings that depict fantasy beings rather than actual prey, burials and idols can be found as far as 350,000 years back, some 200,000 years before the rise of homo sapiens.

Aslan believes that evidence points to an innate belief in a higher power. “What is without doubt is that this is a universal impulse,” the Iranian-American religious scholar asserts, one that’s hardwired into all of us.

Of course, there’s an alternate explanation: beings that don’t hold this belief in a higher power get struck down before birth by the terrible swift sword of the Almighty.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

#UWRF19: Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler gets the bomb

October 25, 2019

A great charm of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali is being able to rub elbows with the incredibly talented attendees on and off stage. At a panel on the Karma of Comedy with James Roque, Lindsay Wong, Rhik Samadder and Maeve Marsden, I found myself sitting next to Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler.

During the session, Roque, an ethnic Filipino who grew up in New Zealand, referred repeatedly to his mother soothing herself with a bath bomb. Wheeler, a living legend of travel who has made the world accessible for millions of people, turned to me and asked, “What’s a bath bomb?”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Tales of Two Cities, one village

November 24, 2016

At last month’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, I talked to author Cheryl Tan about the joys of Singlish and her book written in the city-state’s patois, Sarong Party Girls. Also in artsy Ubud, which once a year becomes haven for fans of the written word in all forms, I asked whether the Hong Kong-Singapore rivalry has become a war of words with authors of the Singapore Writers Group/Hong Kong Writers Circle collaboration, Tales of Two Cities. Asia’s two most international cities present unique challenges and opportunities for writers of all stripes.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes, editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

New Indonesia president faces legislative deadlock

October 20, 2014

Monday’s inauguration of Joko Widowo as Indonesia’s seventh president is a transformational moment for the world’s third largest democracy. Known as Jokowi, Widodo is Indonesia’s first retail politician and will be the first freely elected leader who wasn’t part of the power structure during Suharto’s 40 years of authoritarian rule. At Indonesia’s Ubud Writers Festival., experts warned the remnants of those bad old days threat to stop Jokowi’s reformist agenda, bad news for Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Eat, Stay, Write: Bali for Fodors.com

October 5, 2013

New entries are dribbling online for the expanded Fodors.com guide to Bali that I worked on earlier this year. It’s always a delight to visit Bali, and this trip I went to the north coast for the first time in more than a decade. As with so much else on this rightly popular and renowned island, a lot had changed but the essential character that makes Bali so alluring hasn’t.

I stayed at the Lovina Beach Hotel, which turned 60 this year. Lovina has basically been built around the hotel. The Lovina Beach is definitely old school, but the rooms are fresh, the pool is appealing, everyone’s friendly, and it’s dirt cheap for what you get. At the other end of the scale, I ate a memorable dinner under the stars at Damai, “peace” in Bahasa Indonesia, a boutique resort in the hills above Lovina with views all the way to Java. Plush Puri Bagus Lovina is the winning choice if you want your luxury retreat and manicured lawns on the beach.

Just up the road from Damai, Surya and Fritz Barme showcase the spectacular view at their Ponjok Indah (Beautiful Corner) restaurant by appointment and treat you to sumptuous European food with a German accent. If you’re lucky, this Balinese-German couple may let you sample the wines they make from local fruits. Call them from Lovina on 0362 41571 for your appointment.

Kopi Shyup (+6285737179056), which didn’t make the cut for Fodors.com, is a comfortable coffee shop affiliated with a coffee and clove plantation located between Lovina and scenic Munduk on the road to Banyuatis village in the heart of Bali’s coffee country. It’s worth getting lost to stop by and have a walk around their mini-plantation and kitchen garden.

Further south, I added another restaurant from a best in Asia list. Although French food isn’t my thing, it’s easy to understand the appeal of Metis in Seminyak, with its elegant open air dining room overlooking vast lotus ponds.

Ma Joly on the beach south of Kuta stands out for high level cuisine in an extraordinarily relaxed atmosphere that keeps it from getting fussy or pretentious. If the white sand isn’t soothing enough, Ma Joly’s tropical sangria can help get you in the mood.

Hands down, the best meal I had was at Bridges in Ubud with founder Claude Chouinard. Bridges combines an original international menu with a classic Bali setting, perched on a lush hillside above a river. But every place I stayed, ate and explored was terrific, otherwise I wouldn’t have listed it.

I’ll be heading back to Bali next week for the tenth edition of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. (Watch this space for mews and views.) The only thing I don’t look forward to is the traffic. But even driving there can have its moments.

One compensation is the decoration on trucks. While not as elaborate as jeepneys in the Philippines, some fantasy landscapes or dream girls on the side panels are pretty spectacular. Some times it’s just the mud flaps.

Early in the trip, not far from Sanur, I saw a mud flap labeled “Dr Bombay.” That’s Bali, perfectly bewitching. Just don’t take any wooden Darrens.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Surgeon-Poet Hall doubles in LA book awards

March 5, 2013

Dr Neal Hall, a hit at last year’s Ubud Writers Festival, has scooped up more awards. The eye surgeon’s poetry collection Nigger for Life has won both the poetry prize and grand prize at the Los Angeles Book Festival. Hall will collect his honors at Hollywood’s legendary Roosevelt Hotel on Friday.

Hall also won the poetry prize at last year’s New York Book Festival and New England Book Festival, as well as the Ubud Festival’s poetry slam. He extends the tradition of acclaimed poets with day jobs that includes Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, and fellow physician William Carlos Williams.

Title notwithstanding, Hall asserts Nigger for Life isn’t about race, but about freedom, told from the only perspective he’s got. Hall’s poems are both lyrical and extraordinarily powerful, well worth reading and richly deserving of their accolades.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ubud encounters: Louise Doughty lets fly

October 7, 2012

Besides meeting authors you idolize, one of the great pleasures of coming to an event like the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, is discovering authors you don’t know but should.

Louise Doughty is the author of six novels that tackle head-on vast emotional, political, social and historical ground. Her most recent novel, Whatever You Love, deals with the death of a child, bringing the mother into direct contact and conflict with Europe’s burgeoning immigration controversy. Whatever You Love was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Doughty’s first three novels – Crazy Paving, Dance With Me, and Honey-Dew – put different twists on contemporary Britain, from the supernatural to dating to murder in a proper village.

Two of Doughty’s later novels, Fires in the Dark and Stone Cradle, deal with the Romany experience in Europe, a part of Doughty’s own heritage.

I sat up and noticed when Doughty, also a playwright and critic, spoke about the reaction in some quarters to Fires in the Dark, which takes place during World War II in Central Europe, a period when Nazis murdered up to 500,000 Romany. “A lot of people said to me that they would never read a book that dealt with the Holocaust, as if that somehow made them morally superior.”

After visiting Cambodia’s genocide sites this year, I realized firsthand the importance, and the difficulty, of engaging these extraordinary instances of human brutality. We have a great debt to people who force us to confront what we’d rather avoid. We owe something special to artists like Louise Doughty that find new ways to help keep these issues in front of us, on the page and in person.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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