Sunday, October 18, 2009

Words Amidst Beauty: The Star (Malaysia)

Once again on beautiful Bali, writers and readers from around the world gathered to share their thoughts and experiences. Read Lee Su Kim's article here.

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LEE Su Kim ... Words Amidst Beauty

Once again, writers and readers from around the world gathered in beautiful Bali to share their thoughts and experiences.
Story and photo by LEE SU KIM

FOR FIVE DAYS last week, a gathering of writers from 25 countries discussed the great themes of our time. Censorship, colonialism, ethnicity and identity, exile, gender issues, human rights, identity, literary expression and the state, race, religion, the postcolonial voice, they were all debated at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesia, from October 7-11, 2009.

This literary festival was conceived in 2004 by Janet De Neefe to counteract the disastrous effects of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people and led to dwindling tourists and a sinking economy. Since then, the festival has become “one of the six best literary festivals in the world,” according to the British magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and it continues to attract world-class writers from around the globe, as well as an international audience.

The theme for this year’s festival, Suka Duka, loosely translated as “Compassion and Solidarity,” comes from Bali’s ancient communal wisdom that focuses on the balance between good and bad, sadness and joy, suffering and compassion. This principle, one of the main pillars of Bali’s traditional institutions and communities, has guided its people to act as one single entity in dealing with life’s hardships and blessings.

Writers who attended this year’s festival include Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka (Nigeria); Vikas Swarup, author of Q&A, the book that was made into the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (India); Hari Kunzru and Jamal Mahjoub (Britain), Fatima Bhutto and Mohammad Hanif (Pakistan); Lloyd Jones (New Zealand); Julia Leigh, Sonya Hartnett and Anthony Loewenstein (Australia); Bejan Matur (Turkey); Thant Myint-U (Burma); Seno Gumira Ajidarma and Cok Sawitri (Indonesia); Woon Thai Ho, Wena Poon and Shamini Flint (Singapore); Stephen McCarty (Hong Kong); and Sushma Joshi (Nepal). All together there were more than 100 writers—a truly diverse gathering. Two writers had been invited from Malaysia: short-story writer, essayist and award-winning indie filmmaker Amir Muhammad, and myself, author of three best-sellers,Malaysian Flavours: Insights into Things MalaysianA Nyonya in Texas and Manglish: Malaysian English at its Wackiest.

Among the many interesting and diverse panel sessions the festival offered was one that delved into the festival’s theme directly with a discussion of The Future of Compassion. Wole Soyinka, the first African to receive a Nobel Prize for literature (in 1986), made a telling point of having compassion for his jailors but being less forgiving of those who made the decision to imprison him for his expressions of dissent (in 1967-68, he was placed in solitary confinement for 20 months in Nigeria). Soyinka also talked about the need to be true to one’s own values rather than choosing political opportunism over the freedom of expression. His sentiments were echoed by Indonesian writer Seno Gumira.

Among the many In Conversation sessions I enjoyed were those with Lloyd Jones, who read from his highly acclaimed novel, Mister Pip, a heart-wrenching military fable set in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea; with Soyinka and his protegee Tara June Winch, a young winner of numerous literary awards; and with British novelist Hari Kunzru, author of The Impressionist and My Revolutions.

Genres such as the novel, short story, non-fiction, essays, political discourse, poetry, humour, translation works, travel writing, biographies, narratives, creative nonfiction, blogging and even food writing were covered during this very complete festival. Panel sessions had interesting themes such as A New Frontier: Blogging Dissent and SolidarityBali: A Paradise Questioned;First Person: Finding the VoiceGlobal NomadsInterplay: Words, Music and PicturesLit Chefs: Passion, Food and WordsLiterature and Activism; and Writing the Subcontinent.

I took part in two panel sessions. One was entitled Wanderlust: Travelling Stories and featured Aussie outback traveller and writer Andrew McMillan and Brian Thacker, who specialises in travel off the beaten track. In the other panel session entitled Across Genres: Identity, Family and Place, I talked about multiple identities and shared stories and identity experiences from my Peranakan and Malaysian heritage.

I was invited to do readings from my books with other selected authors at a Literary Lunch in a beautiful setting amidst emerald-green rice fields at John Hardy’s unique estate and at a panel session entitled Dangerous Women held at the magnificent Alila Ubud Hotel, which is dramatically set on a cliff overlooking forests with two narrow gorges running through the lush valley below. I must say that, apart from the attraction of meeting writers from all over the world, another pulling power of this festival has to be its ambience. The settings were superb, rich with the natural beauty of Bali.

Apart from the three main venues, the Neka Museum, the Indus Bar and the Left Bank Lounge, other settings ranged from candlelit dinners at Ubud’s elegant hotels and gracious homes; poetry recitations and readings under the stars in grass-roofed venues amidst rice fields, in the woods in Ubud’s sacred sanctuary, the Monkey Forest, or in Ubud’s grand palaces and temples set in frangipani and lotus gardens amidst waterfalls and fountains ... it was easy to be inspired by words when they were uttered in such wonderful venues!

Workshops were held on how to write for the screen and on subjects like food, sport and travel; there were also sessions on poetry, memoirs, and editing in between book launches, performances, art exhibitions, parties and celebrations. The festival was open to the general public as well with children’s workshops and a street festival at Ubud’s well-known Jalan Kajeng featuring poetry,gamelan and performances.

As a non-profit event that receives no government funding, the festival relies on the generosity of corporations, international funding bodies, and especially individuals. The international festival is the major project of the Ubud-based Mudra Swari Saraswati Foundation.

The festival has today become one of the largest and most prestigious literary gatherings in Southeast Asia and, indeed, the world. I consider it a great honour to have participated in this festival, and plan to return again to the magical isle of Bali to renew my ties with this beautiful land and its kind and gentle people who have succeeded in keeping their culture alive amidst the challenges of globalisation.

LEE SU KIM is an Associate Professor at the School of Language Studies and Linguistics, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Reproduced from The Sunday Star of October 18, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Sunday, October 11, 2009
The sessions I attended on Saturday at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival left the overt political sessions behind and it was a much more literary day.

"A panel on "Writing the Sub-Continent" featured Vikas Swarup, (pic left), author of Q&A, Mohammed Hanif, who also attended the Auckland Readers &Writers Festival earlier this year and is the author of "A Case of Exploding Mangoes, and Sushma Joshi, a short story writer, essayist, and documentary maker from Nepal। The first questions asked about place and sub-continent as characters within their fiction, but somewhat surprisingly, especially given the importance of place in all their works, they professed that the settings were mostly incidental, and the plot itself the only consideration."

I responded to this blog:
Hi Beattie, I was surprised to find your blog post and to read that the writers commented that place was not important in their work. I would like to clarify that all three of us said different things and had different takes on our writing process... I do not subscribe to the ethos that place is not important to my writing, especially since all my writing is about Nepal, and it plays a very central part in whatever I write! Thanks again for giving me the chance to comment...
Warm regards, Sushma Joshi
Kathmandu, Nepal

Beattie's Book Blog

Jakarta Post on Ubud Writers Festival

Carnival Lights Up Ubud Fest

Friday, October 09, 2009

Dangerous women at Ubud Writers Festival

After a thought provoking start to the day lunch took on a lighter note. The literary luncheon entitled ‘Dangerous Women’ was held at the stunningly beautiful Alila Ubud Resort’. Entering the resort through an expansive emerald green rice field, I immediately exhaled. A panel of passionate female authors such as the hilariously funny Shamini Flint (launching her book ‘A Bali Conspiracy’ on Sunday) and Sushma Joshi made lunch side splittingly witty and a complete joy.

See the complete entry at
Jo's Blog
here on the Ubud Writers and Readers' Festival website.

Ubud Writers Festival 2009

Suka-Duka was the theme of the Ubud Writers Festival in 2009. I was on a panel about the subcontinent alongside two writers: Vikas Swarup, who wrote "Q and A", the book that was made into the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire, and Pakistani writer Mohammad Hanif.