Considering The Memoir Reckoning: A Memoir- Magda Szubanski

51GW2tlrbJL._SY346_.jpgMagda Szubanski, the much loved and admired Australian actress and comedian, was one of the headline presenters at the 2016 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesia. The spacious Neka Gallery venue was already packed with curious and supportive fans when I arrived just a few minutes after the introductions. It was standing room only but no one complained as we all wanted to hear Magda talk about her memoir, Reckoning.

The line between an autobiography and a memoir has grown fuzzy and the terms are often used interchangeably. While autobiography has become faintly tainted with scholarly nostalgia and a bit old fashioned, memoirs have turned out to be enormously successful over the last 20 years. Several literary critics and historians have attributed the popularity of the memoir craze to the fact that we live in a “confessional age”, that grew out of the psychoanalytic/ therapeutic era followed by pop psychology counseling and the various self -help movements that have been reshaping our understanding of ourselves and others.

The therapeutic model has re-addressed and embraced the human need for confessional release outside the purview of the Catholic Church. It is interesting to consider that St. Augustine’s book Confession’s, written in the fourth century, would today be considered a memoir. Times Book critic Michiko Kakutani has stated that, “For St Augustine “Confessions” was a spiritual journey to redemption, something between him and God. The conversation between one’s self and God has become a conversation with, and about, the whole world.” Today, we cannot watch a contemporary TV drama without some character offering ‘to be there for you, if you ever want to talk’. What used to be private is now public and the norm, part of a modern way of life.

Confession can also be a powerful political tool.

Magda Szubanski is a savvy gay rights activist.

Magda came out in 2012 while campaigning for gay marriage in Australia, appearing on The Project to announce: ‘I am gay, gay, gay, gay gay’. She later described the revelation as ‘the most empowering thing’ she had ever done.

She is well aware of the power a book about her own journey as a lesbian will have on others in the international Gay community. She may have lost a few fans when she came out, but judging from the admiring audience at her presentation at the festival her career and popularity is stronger than ever.

Magda Szubanski memoir opens with the sentence, “ If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant have thought he was an assassin.” I think that understated attention grabbing line deserves to join the ranks of those other best first liners we test each other’s memories over glasses of beer: What novel begins with, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times…” Or, “Call me Ishmael.” or “Happy marriages are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”?

The voice in the book is much like Magda’s in real life. A straightforward style with an ever so slightly disarming honesty that made me trust her. Her father, Zbigniew Szubanski, came from a good Polish family. At sixteen he signed up to be part of group of Polish underground resisters and assassinated other Poles who were collaborating or providing information to the Nazis about where Jewish families were being hidden. Magda conveys a complicated but convincing reaction to this information.

“He loved tennis, he loved ballet, he loved good conversation. Out there in the Melbourne suburbs—mowing the lawn in his terry-towelling hat and his Bombay Bloomers; in the lounge room doing the samba at cocktail parties; late at night playing his harmonica in the seclusion of the laundry—you would never have guessed that he was capable of killing in cold blood. But he was. Poor bastard. He was born in 1924. He was a boy of fifteen when Hitler invaded his Homeland and the war began, and as soon as he was able he joined the fighting. All through our growing up he would say, ‘I was judge, jury, and executioner.’ And I could never imagine—cannot imagine even now—what it feels like to have that responsibility, that guilt. “To be a little god with a gun, and the power over life and death.” He spent the rest of his life trying to come to terms with what he had done. I grew up in the shadow of that reckoning.”

Magda also conveys her gradual youthful awakening that she likes girls rather than boys. She covers her catholic girlhood, her depressed, rebellious teenage years right into the political feminist period at the university where she met and became involved with an another lesbian and connected with actors.

During her interview session at the writers festival, she was asked about her take on the current gay climate. She said,’ “ Oh, it is much better, not great, but much better. We need to do more to make it even better.”

Magda has been open about her struggle to accept her own sexuality, previously admitting to Marie Claire: ‘When I was younger I used to pray to be straight,’ and saying that she had only grown to accept herself after years of therapy.

“The bottom line is there’s nothing wrong with being gay. I tell you, if there was a tablet you could take to cure it, I wouldn’t take it.”

Society would be much better advised, she said, to “look at the genetic predisposition for prejudice and intolerance, find a pill that will cure that, [and] put it in the water, problem solved”.

In May 2016, Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning: A Memoir won the Australian Book of the Year Award. Readers may buy Szubanski’s book because they know her from TV and films.  She has performed in the television comedy programs.The D-GenerationFast Forward, and the very popular Kath & Kim where she played Sharon Strzelecki. But, they will finish” Reckoning” with a new admiration for Szubanski as a writer.







Aprons Rule At The Ubud Food Festival


Aprons Rule At The Ubud Food Festival 

By Uma Anyar

How did we get from a dinner plate of mashed potatoes, some kind of meat and boiled broccoli or steamed spinach accompanied by a glass of tap water or milk to “blue cheese tortellini stuffed with cashew nut blue cheese with sun-dried tomato-herb oil, served with baby red beets and a sprig of basil” that was meticulously hand-watered and nurtured in a private permaculture garden just a few steps from the restaurant kitchen? When did we transition from food as body fuel to food as sophisticated social status or a politically correct morality conversation between vegans and meat eaters and raw foodies versus cooks that advocate, poached, boiled, baked or barbequed foods? I heard a young up and coming chef proclaim that preparing raw food might be something but it is not cooking.

The political foodie crusade is part of the greater Gaya/ Whole Earth consciousness movement, which precedes and integrates with global warming warnings that have everybody sweating. The chiding tee -shirt slogan, “You are what you eat!” exhorts us to eat healthy foods in order to be healthy, happy and responsible, In other words, it is up to us to make a better world and save the planet. And, of course that is exactly right, as there is no one else to do it.

I got a chance to talk briefly with Jakarta based food writer and chef Petty Elliott. I asked her “ Why have Food Festival events become so popular during the last ten years?” Petty thought a minute and said, “Chefs are no longer just chefs. They have a lot of influence in a world food community, especially celebrity chefs.

An example is Renee’ Redzepi, owner and chef of NOMA, in Copenhagen, which has been awarded best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine (2010-2014). Redzepi has strongly influenced eating habits in Europe and worldwide. He is the father of new Nordic cooking and advocates using only locally grown food products. He has made foraging for vegetables and herbs a hip thing to do. Of course the Balinese have been doing this for a long time. The idea of eating locally grown vegetables, fruits and locally raised livestock has caught on in the world because we have all become concerned about the planet. People want to return to smaller local farming and get away from corporate run farms. It is alarming that Monsanto owns the world supply of seeds. Food festivals are ways of connecting to the world food community, many chefs and politically active foodies are trying to counter the industrialization of food by advocating for ‘locality foods’. Food festivals are petri dishes for spreading culture and ecological ideas. The great result of this festival has been the broad attendance and interaction of all parts of the community making it a truly international event.”

Ubud has a plethora of great restaurants, including top-notch Indonesian restaurants, as well as a profusion of East/West fusion eateries and a healthy dollop of trendy vegetarian, restaurants like Alchemy and The Elephant. Indonesian food is well represented from high-end eateries to favorite local warungs. Ask any Balinese man what his favorite Indonesian dish is and nine times out of ten he will say Babi Guling. Oka’s Warung being the favorite of spit roasted suckling pig lovers.

Trip Advisor has rated Locavore in Ubud the sixteenth best restaurant in the world. It is in the top fifty restaurants in all of Asia. Blanco par Mandif, The Bridges and Mosaic are constantly praised for high international cuisine standards. It seems that once a few restaurants gain success more and more join in. Ubud is known as a yoga town and in the last five years yoga’s influence has sprouted at least five vegetarian and vegan eateries. The slow food movements is alive and well in Ubud. It is a town where more people talk about food and wine and causes than they do about sex and money.

During this Ubud Food Festival I had the pleasure of attending several eating events. “The Garden Grazing with an Eye On The Plate’ dinner at the newly established Moksa Restaurant was a collaboration between Gaya Ceramics and Moksa’s owners. Fourteen clay artists from around the world were invited to make plates, bowls, cups, platters and vessels for the sophisticated seven course raw and vegan dishes created by the admired Chef Made (formerly a chef at Five Elements Resort). Moksa’s open-air dining room overlooks the well-maintained and beloved permaculture garden created by co- founder, Janur Yasa. I asked if he was able to actually feed all of his clientele from one garden. He smiled and said, ”One day I hope it will be possible but for now I am glad if I can do fifty percent.” Where do the rest of the ingredients come from? “We work with local Bali farmers whose farming methods match mine.” The amazing blue cheese Tortellini, mentioned earlier in this article, was created at Moksa in accordance with Chef Made’s holistic high standards. It was an evening of culinary delights served on ceramic creations. I advise using a motorbike for transport to Moksa, as the road is narrow and difficult for a car. I hope the owners will consider serving wine in the future, as it would have enhanced the cuisine, and the festivity of the meal.

A most educational and enjoyable lesson in wine and food took place at The Bridges where Sommelier Antoine Olivain guided a room full of wine lovers and diners through an assortment of fine international wines, which, he paired with a variety of classic Indonesian dishes. I treated my husband, a reluctant socializer but pretty good homemade wine maker, to this wine-pairing event thinking he might enjoy learning which wines enhance his favorite Indonesian dishes. It was a relaxing and interesting master class where sniffing, swirling and sipping wine while nibbling on canapés of bebek betutu or sate kambing. Monsieur Olivain summed up his mission saying. “Food is culture and I want people to learn and love Indonesian foods like I do”. Following are the wines Antoine paired with these Indonesian dishes: Laksa Udang with Babich Chardonney, New Zealand, 2014. Pepes Ikan –Cliffhanger, Riesling. Germany, 2013, Bebek Betutu –Watershed Shades, Shiraz rose’, Australia 2014, Sate Kambing –Georges Duboeuf, Moulin-a-Vent Gamey, France, 2011 and the most surprising pairing which was a bit sweet but actually delicious in combination with the spicy beef- Rendang with Beringer, White Zinfandel, USA, 2013.

Reading, Writing, and Learning at UWRF Workshops



Reading, Writing, and Learning at UWRF Workshops

By Uma Anyar

This year the Ubud Writers & Readers festival offered 11 adult level workshops on many aspects of the writing field. Almost all sold out before the festival started. The workshop sessions ran the gamut from inspirational topics on the psychology of writing to the nuts-and-bolts practicalities of how to self-publish an eBook.

I found Ric Shreve’s’ Self-Publishing & eBooks Workshop, held at Hubud – a popular and lively digital nomad co-working space near the Monkey Forrest in Ubud – to be a well-organised cornucopia of information ranging from which apps to use to produce your book to publishing your eBook with or without a publisher.

Tools, strategies and comparisons of the pluses and minuses of going it alone or finding a publisher were well laid out so that even rank beginners could understand what was at stake and could make an informed decision.

Ric Shreves, the workshop presenter, is a seasoned, polished speaker who presented technical information in an understandable and interesting manner. He kept tech jargon down to a minimum and encouraged us to ask questions. But the best thing about this particular workshop was that Ric Shreves compiled the pertinent points and core information into an outline of slides, which he presented during the workshop and also published online. “No more xeroxed handouts,” he stated, “so more tree are still growing”. You can check out the main points for yourself, here:

The Self-Publishing & eBook Workshop attendees were a vigorous combination of seniors, youngsters and ‘middlers’ who hailed from Singapore, Jakarta and a variety of western countries as well as a few born and bred Ubudians. A Jakarta woman wanted to publish an illustrated children’s book, others were working on novels, cookbooks and practical how-to books.

Ric Shreves is a tech guru and has published 20 books to date, 13 of which are popular technology books both in paperback and on Kindle. The most notable are: Social Media Optimization for Dummies, Joomla Bible and How To WordPress 4. Ric is a multi-talented guy who has boundless energy. He says he is fueled by lots of coffee and curiosity. He is an author, web developer and a partner at Water & Stone, an interactive agency specialising in open source technologies. He’s worked with content management technologies for more than ten years and previously served as the Chairman of the non-profit Mambo Foundation.

“So who should publish their own eBook? ” Ric asked our group, then proceeded to tell us in simple outline form: someone who has time, perseverance and cash, as well as someone who wants total control over their book and is willing to hire editors, graphic designers and promoters or do these tasks all by themselves.

The benefit of self-publishing is that you get to keep all the royalties. He recommended various applications that he thinks excel in various stages of producing an eBook, from research to writing the text, formatting and sourcing images. charges five dollars for a single task such as designing a book cover. This is a site to check out if you have not already discovered it.

For the 12 years I have been attending the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, one of the constant questions has been will print publishing survive or will we end up only reading eBooks on various devices?

At this point in 2015 the either/or query is not appropriate. The answer is obviously both, but not in equal measures. Some books are meant to be simple and these are quick and easy to download. But the interesting and dynamic possibilities lie in Interactive eBooks. It will be interesting to see how artists/writers will be using interactive technology tools to produce new genres, a new approach of experiencing books that is not passive. Think theatre, think games, think group dynamics. The possibilities for digital interactive books/arts are limitless. Perhaps there will be a workshop on interactive eBooks at the 2016 UWRF in conjunction with Hubud or Outpost. I can only suggest and hope.

For audiocasts and written reflections on the 2015 Festival, please head to



Buy Me The Sky- The Remarkable Truth of China’s One-Child Generations by Xinran


Buy Me The Sky-  Xinran

The Remarkable Truth of China’s One-Child Generations


By Uma Anyar

One of the rewards of being a long-term attendee at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is the pleasure of reconnecting with a writer one discovered at an earlier festival return with a new book. That pleasure is doubled if the new book Buy Me The Sky is as thought provoking as her first book, Sky Burial. This is the case with the Chinese -English writer, Xinran who spoke at the 2008 festival.

This year, Xinran returns to Ubud, (Oct 28-Nov. 1, 2015) with a ten- years in the making book about China’s momentous “one child’ policy introduced in 1978 and enacted on September 18, 1980. It was instituted to alleviate social, economic and environmental problems in China. But like

China’s many overhauling governmental policies that have been imposed on the populous; the solution has become a new problem with severe social and familial impacts. Xinran explores, exposes and reveals the actual solo child behind the ‘little princess and little emperor’ syndrome that characterizes children born in China since 1984.

A generation of “one and onlies” dominate current day China. They are the apples of their parents’ eyes, but are burdened with high expectations and simultaneously criticized by society as “little emperors”. They are both envied and scorned. This “selfie generation” is both better educated but less capable of talking care of themselves or caring for others. They have been over protected and spoiled by their doting parents and grandparents who feel they have only one shot at generational immortality. These emerging young adults feel lost and confused about themselves and their role in modern Chinese society.

In the introduction of Buy Me The Sky, Xinran   writes about an incident she witnessed on the street in Beijing during one of her

frequent return trips to China to visit her family, friends and to keep up her education on contemporary China. She recounts an incident she witnessed where a cluster of parents, grandparents and others were all fussing over a four year old boy who was demanding that his parents buy him the river that the child was pointing to. The adults became embroiled in a discussion about what to tell the child. Some said, “Just say you will buy him the river and calm him down.” Others thought that lying was not good as it might set a bad precedent; the child would expect them to buy the sky or the moon as well.

Years of extreme maternal doting has produced Du Zhuang, a university student who has never hung up his own clothes in his closet and cannot pack or unpack his own suitcase. His mother, worried about her son’s first trip to London, called her friend, Xinran and implored the writer to unpack her dear boy’s clothes and to cook his favorite meals. These are not the usual requests one expects when hosting a 21-year-old visitor from one’s home country. Du Zhuang’s mother fussed and coddled her son thoroughly, she travelled an hour to his college dormitory room where she cleaned up, put away his clothing and brought him home cooked meals each and every weekend of his school term. All of this love produced a highly incapable young man unable to cope with the world outside his family.

Although Xinran herself has only one child, Panpan, born in 1988, she moved to London in 1997 and married British literary agent, Toby Eady. Panpan was raised bi-culturally. Because he has been educated in a Western culture that expects self-reliance among other social skills he is not a hothouse only child. But she is aware that he was a lonely boy who was often needy for her attention. In Buy Me The Sky she recounts her own stories about the difficulties of motherhood and how her work has kept her from not spending enough time with her son while he was growing up. Like most mothers she too is uncertain as to what is the best way to raise a child in this era of unprecedented change and globalization.

Xinran writes a column for The Guardian called What the Chinese Don’t Eat. She is a sought after speaker on China and consults for Sky news and the BBC in London. She is also a women’s rights activist and in 2004 started The Mother’s Bridge of Love (MBL), a non- profit organization that reaches out to Chinese children in all corners of the world. By creating a bridge of understanding between China and the West and between adoptive culture and birth culture, MBL ultimately wants to help bridge the huge poverty gap that still exists in many parts of China. Mother’s Bridge of Love came third in TIME magazine’s list of the top ten children’s books of 2007.

Xinran has written seven books about contemporary China. Xinran is the pen name of Xuē Xīnrán, born on July 19, 1958 into a wealthy and privileged family. Her grandparents raised her because her parents were imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution. Her first memory was of the Red Guards setting her home on fire when she was 6 years old.

Buy Me The Sky is built around a sensational and heinous crime that provoked numerous arguments and raised the question: Is it a good thing to be an only child in China today and how has Chinese society changed because of the solo child policy? On the night of 20 October 2010 Yao Jiaxin, a twenty two year-old music student, ran over a twenty six year-old female migrant worker with his car. Not only did he make no attempt to help her, on the contrary, he was so afraid that this woman from the countryside would make trouble for him when he saw her memorizing his license plate that he stabbed her eight times with a fruit peeling knife. He killed the mother of a three year-old on the spot. Yao then fled in his car and ran over and injured another pedestrian. He was finally apprehended and on 22 April 2011 he was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to death.

This highly publicized case divided China into three tribes along theoretical and moral lines. One faction supported the death penalty verdict. “Another faction held that Yao was a victim of an only child society and that this should be considered and that the death penalty is not appropriate for a modern civilized society. The third group, mostly made up of university students, maintained that the life of an only child who had been put through higher education in the arts was of more intrinsic value than that of an uneducated peasant.”

In an impartial tone Xinran recounts the coming –of- age-stories of nine “onlies” with whom she has had prolonged personal interviews It is an insider’s look into the hearts and minds of a unique generation that will be moving into political and societal positions of power in China. Buy MeThe Sky has raised many important questions, which I look forward to hearing discussed at various UWRF sessions.

Nam Le: The Boat

Nam Le: The Boat 


“The thing is not to write what no one else could have written, but to write what only you could have written.” Nam Le


One of the pleasures of attending the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is the opportunity to meet writers who intrigue you not only for their writing but also as people with particularly interesting life stories.

Nam Le is such a writer for me. His history, his family his choices of career paths signal a young writer who just might be the voice of our emerging ‘global citizen’ generation; the postmodern, multicultural, at home everywhere and nowhere person, whose addresses are all virtual.

Le was born in 1978 in Viet Nam and escaped as a‘ boat refugee ’ in the arms of his parents to Australia when he was less than a year old. He grew up in Melbourne and eventually attended The University of Melbourne from which he graduated with a BA (Hons) and LLB (Hons).He worked as a corporate lawyer and was admitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2003/2004. But the suit and tie life did not fit him and he felt pulled toward writing. In an interview on Australian ABC radio, he said he turned from law to writing due to his love of reading: “I loved reading, and if you asked me why I decided to become a writer, that’s the answer right there, because I was a reader and I was just so enthralled and thrilled by the stuff that I’d read that I just thought; what could be better? How could you

possibly better spend your time than trying to recreate that feeling for other people”. He dumped his corporate suit and applied to The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, arguably the best writing program in the world. He was accepted and moved to the United States in 2004. After graduating with a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He became fiction editor at the Harvard Review. His first short story was published in Zoetrope in 2006. Nam Le also held fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in 2006, and at the Phillips Exeter Academy, in 2007. Since these early achivements he has received over ten Australian and international awards including : 2007: Pushcart Prize, 2008: 2008: Dylan Thomas Prize for The Boat and 2010: PEN/Malamud Award among others.

The Boat, a collection of seven short stories was published by the Alfred A Knopf press, in 2008. It is in this book that the reader brushes up against Nam Le, the global citizen as the stories are set in Colombia, New York City, Iowa, Tehran, Hiroshima, and small-town Australia. Nam Le explains that each story provides “a snapshot of a pivotal point in the characters’ lives”.

In the opening story, Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, he writes about a Vietnamese-born character called Nam Le who is attending a writing workshop in Iowa.

It is his most praised and most discussed story. It is also emotional battleground turf for the young writer and the issue of milking heritage tragedy for fame and profit is raised within the body of the story; a character speaking to the fictional Nam Le in the story states: “You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing. But instead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins, and Hiroshima orphans—and New York painters with hemorrhoids.” (Le uses the postmodern trop of inter -mixing fiction with real life to throw readers off their search for veracity or truth in the literal sense. I did not find any lesbian vampires in The Boat. But every story is gem in its own way. They link together in that

The dilemma of writing about a background that is part of your heritage but is not directly your own experience is well handled in the lead story Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, which seems to be a retelling of his Nam’s fathers astounding life. The father tells a group of Vietnamese drunk émigrés gathered together in suburban Melbourne and reminiscing about the past his own story about the time he was a 14-year-old and American soldiers massacred the inhabitants of the village he lived in, his mother saving him from death by jumping on top of him to shield him from the bullets. Later, he would be conscripted into the South Vietnamese army, forced to serve alongside American soldiers. This forced military service condemned him to years in a re-education camp after the fall of Saigon and the North Vietnamese took over. When he was finally discharged from the camp, he fled Vietnam with his wife and child, smuggling them aboard a crowded fishing vessel with dozens of other refugees.

“What does one do with a story of that magnitude?” Nam Le, has said, “This is a past larger than complaint, more perilous than memory.” It is as large—and as perilous—as Faulkner’s old verities, demanding much more than a slick dip into one’s “background and life experience.” How can it be fit into a fiction, then, and particularly the type of fiction, which is produced by the cramped expectations of publics and publishers eager for the latest exotic tragedy? “Love and Honor” is direct in addressing this uncomfortable situation. With out any doubt the author has struggled with his heritage.

“My relationship with Vietnam is complex. For a long time I vowed I wouldn’t fall into writing ethnic stories, immigrant stories, etc. Then I realized that not only was I working against these expectations (market, self, literary, cultural), I was working against my kneejerk resistance to such expectations. How I see it now is no matter what or where I write about, I feel a responsibility to the subject matter. Not so much to get it right as to do it justice. Having personal history with a subject only complicates this — but not always, nor necessarily, in bad ways. I don’t completely understand my relationship to Vietnam as a writer. This book is a testament to the fact that I’m becoming more and more okay with that,” Nam Le states in an interview with the Asia Pacific Post in 2008.

I look forward to  attending his presentations at the next Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Women of Letters: A love letter to missives



Women of Letters is the perfect alchemy of literary art-party and storytelling, with drinking and bonding for all genders of truth-seekers. Marieke and Michaela deserve a medal for creating this happening while we’re on earth.” -Amanda Palmer

In an odd way the creators of Women of Letters, Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, can thank the Internet and its offspring: texting, emails and especially Twitter, for their success at reviving the art of pen and paper letter writing. Remember when a letter inside a journey worn envelope arrived in your mailbox with your name and address scrawled across the front of it? Sometimes the letter was a three or more pages long, the handwriting was familiar and dear to you, from an old friend or a new boyfriend. The letter was for you alone. It could not be hacked or exposed on Facebook. It was a one of kind thing, a gift of handcrafted words.

No, this is not a nostalgic plea for a return to the good old days. But nostalgia entwined with a love of literature is at the heart of the highly successful Women of Letters project launched in Melbourne, Australia in 2012. It has tapped into and revived not only letter writing but also the art of listening to the spoken word in communal settings such as a café’s and pubs. Women of letters have performed in Great Britain, Ireland, Indonesia, (Ubud, Bali) and most recently in New York City at the renowned Joe’s Pub. Writers Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire started the event as a fun experiment to give emerging female writers a platform, but in three years they have watched it grow into a literary phenomenon.

A women of letters reading aloud performance is an emotional event-sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart rendering. These are human letters to life itself and

I would urge you not to miss them at the next Ubud Writers and Readers Festival set for October 28 – November 1, 2015.

An interview with Michaela McGuire follows:

 How did the idea of letter writing come up and how did it turn into the lively performances you have done at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival?

The initial idea was creating a lively literary event that showcased brilliant women; the letter-writing angle came a few weeks later. Marieke and I wanted to stage an event that allowed interesting, funny, smart women to share their work on a regular basis, and we thought that letter-writing might be an interesting format. We could never have predicted that after five years we’d have toured that show all around the world, and especially not in Ubud!

Women of Letters have generated Men of letters and People of letters.  Why is this idea so popular at this point in time?  Is this a response to SMS ‘s and Twitter that is all about brevity and speed?

Nostalgia about “the good old days” is definitely part of the appeal. Everyone spends so much time online, in front of a screen, that the idea of sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen is somewhat quaint. We started playing with the format a little and have now expanded the roster to include the occasional Men of Letters, and People of Letters shows, and they’re enormously fun to put together.

How did you decide on the “letter to a theme or situation model ” such as,” letter to the night I’d rather forget” or “letter to my twelve- year-old-self ” and other provocative topics?

We usually wait until we have all the guests for a particular show confirmed, then look at what that group of women might have something to talk about. The themes need to be specific enough to give the writers some scope, but broad enough that every guest won’t tell the same story. It’s a careful balancing act.

How do you solicit and select the letters you publish? And how do you decide which letters you read in performances.

Everyone who reads a letter at one of our shows is invited to have their letter published in a collection, and it’s entirely up to them whether they want to have their letters available to the world. One or two from each show generally decide that they want their letter shared at that one show, and never again, and we respect that enormously. We don’t audition our guests and often don’t know what their letters will be about until they’re read live on stage. It’s lovely to be as surprised as the audience is.

As co- curators of five books of Women of letters, including: women of Letters, Six women of Letters, Sincerely, Yours truly, Between Us and the latest collection- Airmail, how do you divide up the work- load? What does it take to produce these various collections of letters?

An awful lot of emails! There’s usually 100 or so contributors to initially approach for each volume, and it takes quite a while to talk the process through with each writer. For the first three or four books I was handling that side of things, until our very gracious editor at Penguin offered to coordinate the letters, permissions and signatures of all those contributors before turning them into beautiful books. My inbox has mercifully been far less busy since then.

Which of the five books is your favorite and why?

That’s a little like being asked to pick your favourite child. Is it safe enough to say that the baby of the family is our current favourite? Airmail is being released next week and it’s such a gorgeous book. It serves as a bit of a travel diary for us too, reading back over what transpired on stages everywhere from San Francisco to Dublin to Ubud.

I have had the pleasure of attending your 2014 WOL performance at the UWRF. It was truly enjoyable, funny and inspiring. Can you give our readers any idea as to what we can expect to experience this coming October.

We’re awaiting the announcement of this year’s festival guests as anxiously as you are! We very much hope that it will be a similarly enjoyable experience for festival-goers this year. Once we’re told who’s attending the festival, we’ll do our best to ensure that there’s a diverse mix of funny, eclectic, fascinating women (and People) involved in our shows.

I have read all of your proceeds go to Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary. What brought this idea about and how does it work?

Marieke first met the founder of Edgar’s Mission, Pam Ahern, the year before we started staging shows, and was really taken with what she’s trying to achieve, and the awful amount of hard work that goes into providing a sanctuary for all those animals. All the performers who take part in our shows very generously donate their time, and from there we’re able to give the proceeds to Edgar’s Mission.

Imagine what would happen if Lena Dunham and Woody Allen collaborated


By Uma Anyar

Despite the fact that Lena Dunham has called Woody Allen “disgusting” and that she now thinks his movies aren’t any good, despite my suspicion that Woody Allen probably doesn’t care one way or another what Lena Dunham thinks, probably doesn’t even know who Lena Dunham is, despite their many differences Woody and Lena have a lot in common as creative artists. I would go so far to say that Lena Duham is the millennial generation’s Woody Allen, “The voice of her generation, or at least a voice of a generation….” as, Hannah, Lena’s alter- ego, the main character in “Girls”, has proclaimed herself to be. Woody Allen has been credited with being the voice of the post war Baby Boomer generation (At least Baby Boomers from the New York, New Jersey and thereabouts.

Lets look at the commonalities.


  1. They both direct, act and write their own movies /TV series. Both have been published by The New Yorker magazine. Both have written memoirs about themselves.
  1. Neither Lena nor Woody is your good-looking lead type star, but both use that detriment to their advantage. Woody has long played the schlep that manages to get beautiful women and then looses them. Lena is a liberated fattish girl who likes showing off how comfortable she is with her chubbiness by having lots of on screen nudity and rather weird and uncomfortable sex (in a concrete drainage pipe) on screen. Both are good at playing on their “nebbish-ie” characteristics and both are modern cultural Jews. (Lena’s Mother is Jewish). Both have claimed NYC as their location niche.
  1. Lena and Woody both wallow shamelessly in their neurosis, anxieties, and insecurities and dramatize their addiction to their shrinks. Lena has written that “I’ve called her (my therapist) from beaches, speeding vehicles in Western states, crouched behind a dumpster, in the parking lot of my college dormitory and from my bedroom 10 blocks from her office”. Woody has been in analysis for most of his life. He recently left his shrink because he realized he had to finally grow up now that he is in his seventies.
  1. Their stories focus mostly on heterosexual love and sex but also on friend relationships, e.g. Lena’s relationship with Elijah, her gay male confidant-buddy who thoughtlessly eats up her box of breakfast cereal and with how many relationships don’t work out, example: episode 10, Season 4 of “Girls. Any number of these scenes could have come from Woody Allen’s pen. Please don’t mis-read me. Lena did not steal anything from Woody. She has absorbed him just like a lot of other writers and actors have done. Also they are cut from the same cloth, only in different cultural eras and in different genders. Lena credits Nora Ephram and Helen Gurley- Brown, author of “Sex And The Single Girl”, as influences.

People think of Woody as a child molester and some journalists have criticized Lena for writing about looking into her baby sister’s vagina in her latest book “Not that Kind of Girl”. Some bloggers are accusing her of incest and molestation of her sister. Recently, Lena has been accused of being Anti Semitic for her article in the New Yorker entitled, “Dog Or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz”. I do not need to go into all the ways Woody Allen has been excoriated.

The interesting thing is that every generation comes up with a pop culture comic spokes person. And New York has a type of klutzy, very talented, very ambitious confessional oddball performer/ spokes person that just keeps hogging the spotlight. Although my wish that Woody Allen and Lena Dunham would collaborate on a TV series about multi generational talented and self- deprecatory celebrity Jews in New York City perhaps entitled” All In The Family- Celebrity Style”, I think the time is ripe if not overdue for a postmodern comedy/drama about Humor in our age of endless confessions.