Learning from writers at UWRF

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on workshops run by amazing writers and performance poets, held during the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. This was the second year I’ve volunteered for the festival – it’s a great festival – and the first year that I had the responsibility of organising school workshops. It had its ups and downs but the job was worth it to meet the fantastic group of writers who took part.

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I started off spending a few months contacting international schools in Bali and Jakarta (and even Singapore) to encourage schools to book a workshop with a visiting writer. The writers were all coming to Bali for the festival which was held from 28 October to 1 November in 2015. A school workshop meant a great opportunity for schools to have international writers visit, something that doesn’t happen
too often in Indonesia.

A few months out from the festival I had to start contacting the writers to tell them about the workshop and almost all of them were delighted to have a school visit as part of their events during the festival. I was worried to begin with, maybe some writers wouldn’t want to give up a whole morning to visit a school? But almost without exception, they did!

The hardest thing was negotiating with schools about the visits and making sure both the school and the writer were happy with what was organised. Some schools were easy. They booked one writer for one class and the time was up to us. 9.30 to 12.30? Done. All that was left was to give a list of equipment and resources needed.

Other schools were more demanding and wanted the visiting writers to work around their break times or visit the entire primary school in three hours. But, I was amazed to learn, most writers were very amenable and rose to the challenges of multiple groups, or limited time, or larger class numbers.

I also learnt that the writers visiting the festival were very hardworking. Zohab Zee Khan, for example, had seven separate events over four days, including two workshops. Another writer, Porochista Khakpour, still had to give Skype tutorials to her college classes in the US, sometimes at 3.30am, while she was at the festival.

The best thing for me was I got to meet these amazing writers, and then sit in on their workshops. I tried not to waste my time, either, and joined in as many of the writing exercises as I could. Even Sofie Laguna’s writing workshop with Grade 3’s at the Bali Island School.

In total, six schools, four in Bali and two visiting from Jakarta, had workshops with 13 visiting writers, illustrators, journalists, photographers and performance poets. There were 11 workshops in total and, with some of the writers sharing their time among two or three groups, I worked out about 342 students had the chance to be in a workshop with one of the visiting writers.

And it wasn’t just the students who enjoyed the workshops. One of the visiting journalists told me it was by far the best thing he had been involved in at the festival. Not surprisingly, the school he visited, the Australian Intercultural School, was rapt with his visit.

Next post: what I learnt from performance poets.

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