Indonesian Literary Landscape at a Glance

In 2018 I was invited to be a panelists at the Asian Forum at the Frankfurt Book Fair (German: Frankfurter Buchmesse, FBM), the world’s largest trade fair for books, to convey what our corporation, Kompas Gramedia, has given to the Indonesian literary publishing.

Recognized, Gramedia is one of the largest publishing groups in Indonesia with approximately 130 stores throughout the country. Gramedia is home to seven publishers with its own different character. When it comes to the publishing trend in Indonesia, a number of Gramedia’s books frequently become trendsetters for other major and indie publishers.

Nonetheless, today’s readers in Indonesia are less concerned with whether a literary work is published by a particular publisher. Indie publishers infrequently publish excellent literary works. With a population of over 200 million and 17 thousand islands, Indonesia has a large number of potential writers spread across the country.

It was a big achievement for Indonesia when it was named a Guest of Honor at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair. To celebrate the occasion, publishing activities increased. International publishers were very interested in translating and publishing books from Indonesian publishers. The same thing happened in 2019 when Indonesia was designated as the Focus Market at the London Book Fair.

After receiving numerous awards (national and international), Indonesian literature writers are also well known around the world. Eka Kurniawan, for example, won the World Reader’s Award for his novel Beauty Is A Wound (a translation of the novel that has been translated into 35 languages).

For Man Tiger, he was long-listed for International Booker Prize (2016) as the best translation novel. He also named Emerging Voice (New York, 2016) and was one of the Prince Claus Fund’s 2018 Prince Claus Award winners. In 2015, The Foreign Policy Journal named him one of the world’s 100 most influential thinkers for being successful in reaffirming Indonesia’s position in global literature.

Laksmi Pamuntjak, for other example, received the Liberaturprise for Alle Farben Rot, her Amba novel in German translation edition. This proves the international potential and competitiveness of Indonesia’s book industry. Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata has been translated into 34 languages and spread to 130 countries. Other names like Ayu Utami, Oka Rusmini, Leila Choudori, and Seno Gumira Ajidarma have added color to Indonesian literary works, following in the footsteps of seniors such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Goenawan Mohammad, Taufik Ismail, and onthers.

On the other hand, several of national events awarding writers, such as the Khatulistiwa Literary Award (Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa), The Jakarta Arts Council’s Novel Competition, and the IKAPI Award, complement international festivals such as the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF), Makassar International Writers Festival (MIWF), and the Borobudur Writers and Cultural Festival. The primary goal of the activity is to encourage and reward people’s continued interest in writing and creating new literary works.

What are the subjects the writers are looking at nowadays?

At this time, the author does not refer to any specific subjects. They cover a wide range of topics, not just the political upheaval of 1965, the New Order, or the Reformation of 1998. These settings are used in a large number of works. As as result, they conduct their experiments through writing.

In Women’s Magic, Intan Paramaditha, for example, combine horror genres, myths and old stories with feminist perspectives. Then, there was Ziggy Zezyazeoviennazabrizki (note: this her real name) the winner of the Jakarta Arts Council’s Novel Competition, with her work All Fish in the Sky. Surprisingly, when Ziggy was named as the winner, the jury stated, “Because of the significant quality difference between the First Winner and the other manuscripts, we did not select the winners under it. As a result, we determine that there were no Second and Third Place Winners.”

These are just a few examples of Indonesian literary works, there are quite a lot of literary experiments that bring up local genius issues, although not all of them are appreciated by readers.

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Ariobimo Nusantara
Articles: 6

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