Homegrown & Well Known: JANET DENEEFE

She always believes in the power of the written word and started Ubud Writers and Readers Festival—the kind of festival that nobody in this country even thought of before. First held in 2003, Janet has proven that she’s right: UWRF is now considered one of the biggest writers festivals in the world. Yes, in the world.

Regarding the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, the next one is coming soon, are you happy with the progression?
Our 2012 program is just about finished and I am truly excited by the range of extraordinary sessions and events that I know will thrill the audience. Jeni Caffin, Festival program director, has done a sterling job of creating Festival magic once again. We are now in countdown mode, meaning our workload increases while the adrenalin kicks in. There’s excitement in the air!

The festival was born from the Bali bombings in 2002. I was about to release my book Fragrant Rice at that time and had begun dealing with publishers, publicists and festival directors. After the bombings, I started thinking about ways to heal Bali and figured the power of the written word would surely make a difference and give Ubud the economic boost it needed. We spent twelve gruelling months planning the first event and received wide acclaim when it was over. Since then, the Festival has become of Indonesia’s most significant cultural events. We have hosted Nobel Laureates, Booker-Prize winners and this year, a Pulitzer-prize winner. All literary genres are included, with song-writers, such as Paul Kelly, being one of last year’s headliners. The selected themes are always Indonesian, often Balinese, and those that have current appeal.

From the outside looking in, UWRF is such a beautiful event, very successful and of world class standard. I bet it’s not that easy. What have been your obstacles?
Obstacles? Money of course! It’s exhausting hunting around for cash to help run the event and this year has been extremely difficult (what’s new?!). At this stage, we still don’t have a major cash sponsor. We run it on a shoe string and most people are surprised at the relatively small amount of money we actually need, considering the mammoth nature of the production. I have a core staff of nine who are supremely talented and hard-working and from now on, additional staff filter into the office to join the team. I am also truly lucky to be living in a such a supportive Balinese community, where everyone helps no matter what. And local businesses are extremely generous, too. But lack of funds is the depressing part and holds us back a little. The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy supports us now though, and of course, we are eternally grateful for the support of Tony and Maureen Wheeler of Lonely Planet fame.

Last year you had Paul Kelly as UWRF’s biggest act. Who’s for this year? Can’t see it on your website. Or is it a secret? Hush hush.
We are truly excited to be hosting one of the most interesting singer-songwriters of recent times. Stay tuned as its still hush hush but our guest is a legend and has certainly made a huge contribution to music in Australia!!

After UWRF there’s the Bali Emerging Writers Festival. Uh oh.
The BEWF is held in May and is focused purely on Indonesians. It is designed to offer emerging young authors the chance to discuss their work and network with fellow Indonesians. Interesting young presenters and talented authors often find themselves being featured in the BEWF. And if they are promising enough, they are then invited to appear in the UWRF in October.

You just released a book. Can you share with us about it?
Bali: The Food of My Island Home, is my latest cookbook. It is absolutely overflowing with glorious photos of food and Bali, with all my favourite recipes in between. Mark Roper is the photographer and he is one of Australia’s best. I will launch it during the 2012 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

There’s this cool session in a chic little place that you own, Bar Luna, called Bar Luna Lit Club (I wish I could go every week!). I seriously think people out there should appreciate this event more.
Bar Luna is a charming, intimate small café that features literary events throughout the year. It is located right behind Nomads, off the main road. Many talented musicians appear and any interesting folk in town get dragged in to share their words, music, whatever, with the audience. We have had the most exceptional discussions and performances here. Musicians especially love it for its intimacy. Performances, discussions and our legendary Poetry Slam are held Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Friday evening is a night that focuses on the local community and Indonesian language. We have plans for more evenings.

Any last nagging words?
Just so you know, UWRF is not about making a profit. We are a not-for-profit and any surplus we make goes straight back into the next Festival.

Domestic Groove: JANET DENEEFE


Homegrown & Well Known is my biweekly column in The Beat (Bali) mag. Basically it’s an interview via e-mail with Bali’s local big shots. This is the twelfth edition and was firstly published on The Beat (Bali) #318, Aug 16-30, 2012

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