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Ubud Writers And Readers Festival Appoints Inaugural Head Of Programming

Posted: 28 November 2022
Photo credit: Leah Jing McIntosh

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) is delighted to announce Gene Smith has been appointed the organisation’s inaugural Head of Programming. Working alongside the festival’s Founder and Director Janet DeNeefe, Gene will lead the creative vision for the Festival’s 20th Anniversary Edition taking place across 18–22 October 2023.

Previously Associate Director at Melbourne Writers Festival, Gene contributed significantly to the curation and delivery of the annual festival, one of the largest in Australia presenting over 150 events and 250 writers across a week-long program. In 2020, he was the lead programmer and producer for the innovative MWF Digital program developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, attracting over 30,000 viewers to 50 online events featuring the likes of Elizabeth Strout, Kevin Kwan, Anne Enright, Charlotte Wood, Brit Bennett, Patrick Radden Keefe, Julia Gillard, Alexis Wright, and more. Earlier in his career, Gene worked at Sydney Writers’ Festival, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Opera House, and the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

He has also sat on peer assessment panels for literary grants and prizes, including for Creative Victoria and the prestigious Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

On his appointment, Gene Smith said, “It’s a dream come true to be able to do this work in a setting as beautiful and sensational as Ubud. UWRF is renowned across the world for being singular in its spirit and experience—it’s quite unlike any other festival. Twenty years is a big milestone and I look forward to working with Janet and the team on delivering an outstanding program brimming with big ideas and extraordinary writing.”

Janet DeNeefe said, “Gene has an exceptional track record working across the literary festival sector and brings not just immense knowledge and expertise, but also a deep passion for bringing writers and readers together to celebrate the transformative power of literature. I can’t wait to unveil the magic we will create for our 20-year anniversary.”

Gene Smith will commence in his role effective immediately.


What inspired you to take on the Head of Programming role at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival?
I knew from my first attendance in 2018 that the festival was quite unlike any other literary event in the world; there’s something about the sticky atmosphere and tropical, mountainous surrounds of Bali which breaks down the barriers between writer and reader, creating a more holistic festival experience which just can’t be beaten. Its tiny team punch well above their weight in terms of organisation and vision, and Founder/Director Janet DeNeefe is an inspiration. I’m so lucky to get to work alongside them, and on the 20th Anniversary Edition no less!

What can we expect from the 20th Anniversary Edition?
It’s early days (I started only last week!) but I know already that the entire team is united on one thing: making it an unforgettable celebration. The festival will have all that it should, including electrifying conversations and thoughtful debates between some of the world’s most exciting writers and thinkers, as well as a wide-ranging offering of Indonesian dance and performance, literary lunches, guided tours of Ubud’s famous markets, temples and rice fields, late-night comedy, musical and spoken word galas, as well as book launches, workshops, and events designed to enrich and inspire the imaginations of emerging writers and young people. And we’re thinking through what else we can do to really mark the occasion with something special.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Perhaps a clichéd answer, but I honestly spend much of my spare time reading. I often have two or three books on the go at any time—a novel, a non-fiction book, and a short story or poetry collection. I’m a bit of a homebody but can be easily tempted out with the promise of spending time with friends, trying new restaurants and bars (or revisiting trusty favourites), and attending other festivals and cultural events. Petting animals is also a pastime to which I give a lot of time and attention.

Favourite book of 2022?
Oh, it’s hard to choose just one. Three I’ve really enjoyed are Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow, Sarah Winman’s Still Life, and Kamila Shamsie’s Best of Friends.