New Voices from Indonesia

New Voices from Indonesia

Read My World invited two South East Asian guest curators to select the writers and poets from their region that tell stories beyond the issues of the day. Authors that, right now in the Caribbean, matter, in line with the curators’ vision of literature and the festival’s penchant for fresh and engaged voices. Columnist translator Kadek Krishna Adidharma Indonesia ) selected nine authors from Indonesia, of whom the first four will join us at the festival in October:

Seno Gumira Ajidarma (born June 19, 1958 in Boston, Massachusetts) is an author of short stories, essays, and movie scripts. He is also known as a journalist, photographer and lecturer. He won the 1997 Southeast Asian Writers Award. Some of his well-known short stories are Manusia Kamar(1988), Penembak Misterius (1993), Saksi Mata (1994), Dilarang Menyanyi di Kamar Mandi (1995), Sebuah Pertanyaan untuk Cinta (1996) and Iblis Tidak Pernah Mati (1999). Seno has been writing fiction since the age of 16 and began working as a journalist when he was 19. He has published more than 30 books since the 1980s. Seno’s short stories often both document everyday life and criticize contemporary social, cultural and political conditions. He has been a consistent advocate of free speech and freedom of publication, writing about sensitive issues, including military violence in East Timor in the stories of Eyewitness and in his 1996 novel, Jazz, Parfum dan Insiden (Jazz, Perfume and an Incident). Other subject matter has included the so-called “mysterious killings” in East Java in the early 1980s, and instability in Aceh. Seno’s credo is “When journalism is silenced, literature must speak. Because while journalism speaks with facts, literature speaks with truth.” His writing styles vary from reportage and realism to fantasy.

Dyah Merta, born in Ponorogo, East Java, has published short prose in various media. Her debut novel, Peri Kecil di Sungai Nipah (Nymph of Nipah) presents a harrowing story of family intrigue, secrets and betrayals as their home village gets caught up and crushed by the unstoppable wheel of development. She is currently based in Jogja.

Laksmi Pamuntjak is the author of two collections of poetry (one of which,Ellipsis, appeared in the 2005 Herald UK Books of the Year pages), a treatise on the relationship between man and violence based on the Iliad, a collection of short stories,four editions of the best-selling and award-winning Jakarta Good Food Guide and two novels. Pamuntjak’s first novel Amba, which has been translated into English under the title The Question of Red,is about the historical memory of 1965, in which up to one million accused Communists in Indonesia were massacred by the Suharto government. The German and Dutch translations of the novel will appear simultaneously in September 2015, under the title Alle Farben Rot (by Ullstein Verlag) and Amba of De Kleur Van Rood (by Xander Uitgevers). Pamuntjak’s second novel, Aruna dan Lidahnya tells of Indonesia’s culinary diversity and the corrupt politics of Avian Flu.Both novels are national bestsellers. In 2012 Pamuntjak, who was also co-founder of Aksara Bookstore, was selected as the Indonesian representative at the Poetry Parnassus/Cultural Olympics in London, the largest poetry festival in the history of the UK, held in conjunction with the London Olympics. She now writes op-eds for The Guardian and divides her time between London and Jakarta.

John Waromi is a Papuan poet and novelist. He studied law in the Cendrawasih University in Papua. As a scout he trained in the marines tall sail training ship KRI Dewa Ruci in 1983. In 1986 John Waromi moved to Jakarta as a scout but left in 1987 to join Bengkel Teater Rendra, those days the most prestigious theatre group in Indonesia, led by the famous poet and playwright W.S. Rendra. The following years he participated in guest appearances in the USA, Japan and Korea.  Parallel he began to write in Gorong Gorong Budaya in Depok, a cultural journal of West Java. In 2006 he was invited to participate in the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. 2008 he was a participant in the Northern Territory Writer Festival, Darwin, Australia. In his poetry he mourns the struggling individual, cut off all roots, far away from nature and social security. The background for this can undoubtedly be found in the neo-colonial invasion by foreign mining companies in Waromis homeland Papua, where he now lives as an activist.


Ni Komang Ariani is a Balinese short-story writer & novelist. He was born in Bali, 19 May 1978, graduated from Airlangga University. In early 2003, she began work as radio news announcer on Global FM Bali, and in October that year, moved to Jakarta to work as a broadcaster and journalist with KBR68H until March 2006. As well as writing, Komang also works as an Social Studies Teacher in Highscope Indonesia. Her short stories have appeared in the newspapers Kompas, Suara Pembaruan, Jurnal Nasional, Sindo and Bali Post, and in the magazines Chic, Kartini and Gadis. Her novella, Nyanyi Sunyi Celah Tebing, won first prize in the 2007 Femina magazine serial story contest. Her other awards include a commendation in short story competition on the theme of the environment organized by the tabloid Parle, for her short story Kemana Iyah Sewaktu Banjir. Her published work includes the compilation of short stories “Lidah” published by Pustaka Pergaulan, June 2008. In 2009, her short story “Senja di Pelupuk Mata” was chosen as one of 14 Kompas Daily Short Stories Selection. In 2010, her first novel, Senjakala was published. In 2011, she was invited to Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Iksaka Banu (born in Yogyakarta) studied graphic design at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and worked in advertising in Jakarta until 2006 before becoming a freelance graphic artist and writer. As a young boy, his stories were published in the children’s columns of Harian Angkatan Bersenjata (Army Journal), Kompas daily newspaper and Kawanku magazine. He then moved on to drawing comics. In his high school years, his comics “Samba the Mighty Rabbit” was published in Ananda magazine throughout 1978. In his adult life, the day-to-day life as a father and art-director took his attention away from writing. In the year 2000, during a long sabbatical, he tried to write a short story that was eventually published in the magazineMatra. It gave him the encouragement to continue writing. Since then he has been published in Femina magazine, Horison literary journal and the daily newspaper Koran Tempo. His two short-stories “Rose at the Tiger Canal” and “All for Indies” were voted among the top twenty best short-stories of Indonesia by the Pena Kencana literary award in 2008 and 2009 respectively. He won the 2014 Khatulistiwa Literary Prize for prose.

Teuku Ahmad Dadek is currently the head of the West Aceh Development Planning Board. He earlier led the regency’s disaster agency and was the district head of Johan Pahlawan, one of the areas in Meulaboh worst-hit by the 2004 Tsunami. A number of his family members including his mother were never found following the December 2004 disaster. In 2004, he published Aceh Menggugat: Penolakan Masyarakat Aceh terhadap GAM(Aceh Testifies: The People of Aceh’s rejection of the Free Aceh Movement). He is currently working on a manuscript documenting the development of Aceh in the decade following the 2004 tsunami.

Dewi Lestari Simangunsong (born in Bandung, West Java) is an Indonesian writer, singer, and songwriter. She attended international relations at Universitas Parahyangan and became a singer in the band RSD after she graduated. In 2001, Dee released her first novel, Kesatria, Putri dan Bintang Jatuh (The Knight, The Princess, and the Falling Star), the first of her Supernova series, followed by Supernova: Akar (Supernova: Roots) and Petir(Thunder). The most recent novel in this series, Partikel (Particle) was released in 2012, with wide-ranging themes of shamanism, ethno-botany, extraterrestrials and environmental issues. In March 2006, Dee publishedFilosofi Kopi: Kumpulan Cerita and Prosa Satu Dekade (Coffee Philosophy: A Decade Worth of Stories and Prose). The collection of short stories and prose dealt with themes of love and spirituality. Two years later, Dee releasedRectoverso, a “hybrid” album accompanying a short story collection. That year she also saw her novel Perahu Kertas (Paper Boats) published. In 2011 Dee released another collection, Madre (Mother), which was inspired by her hobby of cooking. Dee is an author that captures the imaginations and aspirations of Indonesia. Many of her short stories and novels have been translated into film, to popular appeal. Dee often touches on themes of religion in her songs and writings. She notes that spirituality is her “driving force”, but has said that she says “no” to religion. She has also touched on environmentalism.

Aprila Wayar is a journalist and novelist, based in Jayapura, Papua (mixed Javanese & Papuan heritage). There are a number of women writers from Papua but there’s only one woman novelist, Aprilia RA Wayar. Her two novels portray women who are denied their rights and yet continue their persistent struggles for their causes. The novels, Mawar Hitam tanpa Akar(Rootless Black Roses), published in 2007 and reprinted in 2013, and Dua Perempuan (Two Women), released in 2013, touch upon universal themes. But as the stories are set against Papuan backgrounds, readers can get an idea of the conditions faced by Papuan women through the characters.


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