TravelTraveler Magazine

#TripLit: Notes on the Ubud Writers Festival

I recently had the good fortune of getting to participate in the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, which took place on the Indonesian island of Bali in early October. This gloriously cornucopic and chaotic literary love fest brought together 130 writers (from more than 20 countries) and hundreds of word enthusiasts from around the world.

It was wonderful. Among the robust schedule of more than 100 events, I taught an all-day travel writing workshop (with students from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, England, and the U.S., we were a world-girdling assemblage), pontificated about travel writing on a couple of panels, savored a delicious lunch-cum-debate on the intersections of culture and cuisine, and forecasted the future of publishing with a delightful trio of fiction writers.

The theme of the conference, “Earth and Mankind” (taken from the title of a book by the late, great Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer) resonated with me throughout the five-day festival as dozens of casual conversations with writers and attendees alike broadened and deepened my worldview.

From special exhibits in museums to performances by regional poets and dancers to al fresco dinners in enchanted settings, and with participants ranging from members of Indonesia’s literati to Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, to Australian musician Nick Cave, the festival both showcased and synthesized the local and the global with spectacular elan.

This was all in addition to the sublime joy of being in Ubud itself – which, once you get away from the bustling main drag – bestows still a little piece, and peace, of heaven. The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening literary festivals I’ve ever attended (and that’s saying something).

I’ve already blocked out next year’s dates (October 2-6) on my calendar so that — gods and conference organizers willing – I can attend again next year. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

Don George writes the monthly Trip Lit column for National Geographic Traveler, and penned the cover essay about how Paris changed his life for the magazine’s November issue, on newsstands now.