The Jakarta Post
Literature accolade: Janet DeNeefe (right), founder of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, presents the “Lifetime Achievement Award” to writer Sapardi Djoko Damono during the festival’s opening ceremony in Puri Ubud, Bali, on Wednesday. The five-day festival will run until Sunday. (The Jakarta Post/Anggara Mahendra )
Sapardi Djoko Damono, a senior poet famous for his romantic verses, was honored Wednesday evening with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF).
A venerated lecturer and prolific writer whose works have been translated into 13 languages and inspired movies and musical scores, the 78-year-old legend appeared on stage wearing a long-sleeve batik shirt and his signature black Ascot cap.
He briefly talked about his literary journey before commending the UWRF for its effort to bring Indonesian literature to the world.
“Thank you very much [for the award] and I hope this festival will get bigger and bigger in the future,” he said.
Sapardi’s “Aku Ingin” (I Want) is one of Indonesia’s most well-known love poems, appearing regularly in wedding invitations and poetry readings across the nation.
Sapardi is the third writer to be honored with the award after the late Sitor Situmorang and NH Dini.
“Through the award, we acknowledge their literary excellency and personal contributions to our world,” UWRF founder and director Janet DeNeefe said.
Held at the Ubud Royal Palace, the opening ceremony was attended by scores of dignitaries, including Bali Deputy Governor Tjokorda Artha Ardhana Sukawati and government representatives from Australia, Italy, Japan and the United States.
This year, the UWRF enters its 15th year, making it not only the largest but also the country’s longest-running annual international literary festival.
Indonesia’s former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa, who officially opened the festival, praised it as an important endeavor in building bridges among nations and people.
More than 180 authors, artists and activists from across the archipelago and 30 other countries will participate at this year’s festival.
In the five-day gathering, the UWRF will host more than 200 events across 30 venues, with open-air panel discussions, live music, poetry slams, Indonesian film screenings, cultural tours, book launchings, art exhibitions and more.
The main program’s 70 one-on-one and panel discussions promise a world of extraordinary stories, diverse perspectives and deep dives into the region’s most pressing issues, from feminism to the environment, religion to freedom of expression, and immigration to the 2019 presidential election.
An in-conversation series will feature eminent British writer Hanif Kureishi, two-time Miles Franklin Award winner Kim Scott, Australia’s former president of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs, celebrated author and essayist Geoff Dyer, Indonesian Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, Marty, bestselling author Fatima Bhutto and one of Italy’s most popular writers today, Giuseppe Catozzella.
Indonesian writers will weigh in on what has and has not changed after 20 years of reformation and Balinese artists will examine their island after a century of tourism.
Following Indonesia’s recent devastating natural disasters in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, and Central Sulawesi, the Dealing with Disasters panel will address what measures in disaster risk reduction are urgently required, and, for those tragically affected, how these events can be processed and memorialized.
As part of the festival’s mission to support Indonesian communities, the UWRF has also teamed up with local NGO IDEP Foundation to assist in their emergency response programs in North Lombok and Central Sulawesi. Donation buckets will be placed at various points at the festival and donations can also be made via the UWRF website. IDEP director Ade Andreawan will speak at the Dealing with Disasters event.
“The UWRF was started after an act of terrorism 15 years ago to support the Balinese community. This year, it’s important we do our best to support North Lombok and Central Sulawesi,” DeNeefe said.
The UWRF was first held after the 2002 Bali bombings and the lingering Asian financial crisis. Since then, the UWRF has evolved into Indonesia’s biggest platform for its writers and artists, and one of the world’s most beloved literary events.
“Most visitors in the early days said they knew nothing about Indonesian writers, but this has now changed. People are now sitting up and taking notice,” DeNeefe said.
She added that one of the world’s biggest publishers, Penguin Random House, had just announced its expansion into Southeast Asia.
“Meaning that many more Indonesian writers will be read around the world. This heralds a new era for Indonesian fiction and nonfiction, and after 15 years of sharing Indonesian literature and culture with the world, we feel we’ve had an important role to play in that,” she said.
The theme of this year’s festival is Jagadhita: The Word We Create. For the Balinese, Jagadhita is the individual pursuit of universal harmony and prosperity as one of life’s primary goals.
Mudra Swari Saraswati Foundation chairman Ketut Suardana said the theme was in line with tourism stakeholders’ mission to build sustainable tourism.
“This festival is also to build and spread a message to the world about Indonesian tourism and culture,” Suardana said.