Promoting Indonesian Writers to the World

Writers Seno Gumira Ajidarma, performing at the launch of IDWriters.com. (Photo courtesy of IDWriters/Sadikin Gani)

By : Christabelle Palar | on 11:10 AM February 05, 2015
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture

Every October for the past decade, literary enthusiasts from across Indonesia and abroad have flocked to Ubud, Bali, for the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Featuring a wide range of acclaimed local and international writers, the festival has become the country's leading literary event.

Around April every year, the organizers also put together the Bali Emerging Writers Festival, which has become an annual gathering event for up-and-coming Indonesian writers.

These, in addition to the Makassar Writers Festival -- which made a fresh start in 2010 -- provide even more space for local writers to connect with each another and their readers and, more importantly, showcase their works to a wider audience.

But the blooming local literary scene aside, the search for information on Indonesian writers remains a challenging feat. For all the answers it can provide to mundane everyday questions, Google has little on the works and backgrounds of Indonesian writers other than those established names such as literary virtuosos Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Laksmi Pamuntjak, Gunawan Moehammad, and the like.

Valent Mustamin, founder of IDWriters.com. (Photo courtesy of IDWriters/Sadikin Gani) Valent Mustamin, founder of IDWriters.com. (Photo courtesy of IDWriters/Sadikin Gani)

It was this realization that inspired Valent Mustamin to create IDWriters.com.

"I was involved in a literary festival [when the idea of IDWriters.com came] and I had a difficult time looking up information on Indonesian writers, especially those writing in English," Valent said at the website's launch event last week.

"There isn't that much information [about Indonesian writers] available on Google, although some can be found on Goodreads.com. But even that would be limited to a list of their books only and they are not categorized by their nationalities."

"There is some on Wikipedia and in English, which helps a little," he added.

Enter the above names on a search engine and one would be presented with Wikipedia pages, articles, interviews and other pieces of information detailing their lives, works and views. But this wouldn't be the case for most other Indonesian writers.

"The reality is that not many Indonesian writers have been covered by the media, and chances are quite slim for other writers to have their information shared with the public," Valent said.

Early last year, Valent decided to start a side project, working on his idea of a database of Indonesian writers, which would provide not just a list of their books, but a complete summary of their works as well as their profiles. The site would also include links to published coverage of the writers and their lesser-known works, and generally any information that could help build the writers' profiles on the Internet.

All this information would be written in English with the aim of providing the rest of the world with access to the expansive pool of talented writers across the archipelago.

"The idea is that as long as these writers are Indonesian, they would be registered on this site. Each writer, whether they have published one book or 200 books, would be treated equally on IDWriters.com," Valent said.

By December last year, his project had piqued the interest of his friends and fellow literary enthusiasts, who then helped with further development of the website and assisted him by spreading the word about his important initiative.

Writers Seno Gumira Ajidarma, performing at the launch of IDWriters.com. (Photo courtesy of IDWriters/Sadikin Gani) Writers Seno Gumira Ajidarma, performing at the launch of IDWriters.com. (Photo courtesy of IDWriters/Sadikin Gani)

Frankfurt Book Fair

The establishment of IDWriters.com comes just as Indonesia prepares itself to take the spotlight at this year's prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair, following its appointment as Guest of Honor.

Guest of Honor status would grant Indonesian literature special focus at the annual event and space of about 2,000 square meters at the main pavilion to showcase some 200 works by Indonesia writers. Other participating nations are typically allocated smaller booths during the event.

A series of literary events have also been rolled out since last year's book fair to highlight and boost Indonesia's important role in the upcoming event, along with other cultural events set to take place in and around Frankfurt.

With a website dedicated to promoting Indonesian writers , IDWriters.com expects to play an important part in disseminating any information the book fair's visitors may seek about the Guest of Honor.

"At least when Indonesia gets that huge exhibition space at this grand event, IDWriters.com will be able to contribute by providing information about the diversity in Indonesia, including diversity in the works of our writers," Valent said.

Much-needed support

During a discussion as part of IDWriters.com's launch event last week, publishers and writers conceded that promoting literary works by Indonesian authors was not an easy task.

Salman Faridi, chief executive of Indonesian publishing house Bentang Pustaka, explained that language remained one of the toughest barriers to overcome.

"It is very difficult to promote our works to the world, with language being the main barrier -- especially English. Translating requires time and a pretty big budget. This has becoming one of the barriers to publishers in promoting local works and in making them more accessible abroad," Salman said.

Publishers and writers discuss efforts to promote Indonesian writers to the world during IDWriters.com's launch event. (Photo courtesy of IDWriters/Sadikin Gani) Publishers and writers discuss efforts to promote Indonesian writers to the world during IDWriters.com's launch event. (Photo courtesy of IDWriters/Sadikin Gani)

With the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair, he said the Indonesian government has moved to boost efforts to support the translation of Indonesian literary works into both English and German.

"The Frankfurt Book Fair has pushed the government to provide translation funds and this is a good thing. The book fair has become a venue for the country to promote itself," he said, adding that the efforts, however, seemed rushed.

Award-winning writer Okky Madasari echoed Salman's views, saying it was impossible for writers to promote their works on their own and that external help was necessary.

"The government's role is sorely needed to promote local literature on an international stage. The Frankfurt Book Fair is about involving other countries through its Guest of Honor program. It is a political and diplomatic gesture, and isn't simply a measure taken just for fun," Okky added.

For its part, IDWriters.com has yet to provide a complete list of contemporary Indonesian writers, but Valent hopes to continue improving the website in the coming weeks and months leading up to the Frankfurt Book Fair in order to best contribute to the cause.

"After the launch, we will start our crowdsourcing process to complete our database," Valent said.

For now, a search for "Indonesian writers" on Google will now also bring up a link to IDWriters.com's website and Twitter account, which in itself is already a step forward to bringing Indonesian voices to the world stage.

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