Thursday, September 16, 2010

Read, Pray, Love

The 2010 Citibank-Ubud Writers & Readers Festival runs from 6-10 October in Bali, and a more congenial south-east Asian literary gathering you would be hard pressed to find.

Part of this is down to Ubud's gorgeous setting, perched on a hilltop overlooking terraced rice paddies and tropical jungle hiding ancient, moss-covered temples. The town is Bali's cultural hub and a bit of a hippie chill-out zone, with more yoga, reiki and crystal-healing classes than you could shake an incense stick at.

More recently it's become a mecca for thirtysomething divorcees, all clutching tear-stained copies of the Elizabeth Gilbert bestseller Eat, Pray, Love (it's at Ubud where the author finds true love, after seeking spiritual guidance from a toothless medicine man).

This year, a host of leading writers from Louis de Bernieres and Anne Enright to Thomas Kennealy, Nam Le and Christos Tsolkias will be giving talks and readings at the town's bars and restaurants, many of which have settings overlooking rice fields and river gorges.

There will be book launches in tropical gardens, jazz bands and cocktails, fresh seafood and fruit. The vibe is friendly and relaxed; no wonder Harper's Bazaar dubbed the event "among the top six literary festivals in the world".

The festival is the brainchild of Janet de Neefe, a Melbourne-born entrepreneur (seen above with last year's star guest, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka) who moved to the island more than 20 years ago. She's affectionately known as the Queen of Ubud, thanks to a mini-empire of guesthouses, restaurants, a bar, a bakery, a cooking school and a homewares store. So why did she decide to branch out into words and books?

"I launched the festival after the 2002 Bali bombings to attract people back to the island and boost the economy," she says. "I wanted to show that out of tragedy good things can happen.

"Since then it's gone from strength to strength. The line-up this year is fantastic - we've lined up some of the best and brightest global writers to debate the issues that divide and unite us, based on the theme Bhinneka Tunngal Ika, which means Harmony in Diversity.

We're also offering movies, panel debates, jazz and hip-hop performances, cooking classes, theatre and dance - anything to inspire writers and their readers to merge in a celebration of freedom and thoughts."

See you there.

More on the festival at:

Melissa de Villiers

* The photograph was taken by Neal Harrison

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