Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2009: Indonesian Literature on the Global Stage

Due to a very busy schedule of holidays, my work in BaLi (or affectionally shortened as “Banyak Libur”) was interrupted to a certain degree causing e-mails traffic jam in my inbox. Idul Fitri was not fully done as can be seen in the unfinished paving project in front of my office; but yet we are welcoming Galungan and Kuningan tomorrow. This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival was jammed between those two holidays. Dreadfully, I had only one day to spare.

After a late start (was watching a splendid performance of ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’ the night before), I made it on time to Neka Museum just before Seno Gumira Ajidarma, Zeffry Alkatiri, Nelden Djakababa, NH Dini and Pam Allen (as moderator) took their seats. The panel session: Indonesian literature on the global stage. Or, lack thereof. The small audiences, consisted mostly of foreigners and as usual, only few locals, were obviously has been exposed to one or more works of Indonesian literatures. After a brief introduction of the writers, the moderator then moved to ask about how important it was for the writers to have their works translated and published abroad. Seno Gumira Ajidarma in his reknown candid self answered, “It’s not that important for me but it is important for Indonesia, to show the world that we can write.”

When the moderator asked to the writers about what was their early exposition to literature and if formal education got anything to do with it, the response were amusing. It is fair to say that all of the writers have had little brush with literature on their early ages. Nelden Djakababa admits frankly that she was traumatized by her school experience when she was pressed to memorizing Armin Pane’s ‘Belenggu’ instead of discussing it. Zeffry Alkatiri also admits that in his limited childhood, he was at first reading only magazines or comic books. Seno Gumira Ajidarma recalled Chairil Anwar poems as his early exposition on Indonesian literature and it was due to the fact that his poems was always in use at every school competition. The Grande Dame of Indonesian women writers, NH Dini, admits that she was lucky to have good teachers at school who shared with her the passion for reading, which ultimately made her a reader for life. In her soft Javanese accented voice, she says she's an autodidact writer who learns how to write by reading. To my surprise, she also admits to the audiences on how limited was her budget to buy books and how she counted on her friend in France to send her books. It was NH Dini, a well-known writer and I dread to think of another readers who share the same hardship on purchasing books which by the way, are getting more expensive each year.

Anton Kurnia, another panelist, came belatedly at that moment and in a brief summary (between sweating and talking, since it was very hot in Ubud) told the audiences about his reading (an adult magazine which published crime and sex articles together with Camus’s short story) and what it means for him to write. He calls it “solidarity in solitude” on how he writes about the country and its people. The panelists also discussed about the need to strengthen readership in Indonesia first, then later to bring it abroad. What kind of literature would it be if the work was not known in its original language and origin. It was quite a memorable session and as an Indonesian hoping to be one day hearing Seno Gumira Ajidarma or Danarto mentioned in the same breath as Vikram Seth or another Asian writer, I hope this event could be a platform for Indonesian wealth of literature to be known abroad.

To sums it up, Indonesian literature should first be founding a strong hold in Indonesia itself. It can be done only by erasing the grave prejudices most people have on the word ‘literature’ as a heavy, intimidating and intellectually superior meaning. Memorizing poems or classics surely are not enough to create a reader out of a student. Reading is a process. One moves from fairytales and storybooks to comics to short stories to poems to novels. Adapted film can also be another media to put Indonesia on international stage such as “Laskar Pelangi” to name one. Richard Oh, in his sparkling comment, said, “We are unfortunate that we weren’t colonialized by the British” as witnessed in the thriving growth of Indian or Malaysian literature and their easier access to international publication. Eric Setiawan’s “of Bees and Mist”, for example, has been published abroad and he might be a beginning of many Indonesian diaspora writers who can tell the world about Indonesia.

Before I ended this entry, I’d love to quote Seno Gumira Ajidarma when he says that ‘the love of literature doesn’t always to be found in school and writing doesn’t always about technique but also about things that you have to say’. Very well said, indeed.
P.S: Sorry, due to my camera being broken, I couldn't take any shot of this event.

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Hello! I’m Eve Tedja

I have been a professional writer for four years.


During that time, I have worked as a permanent contributor for Let’s eat! Magazine, Hello Bali, epicure, and published my articles in several other magazines like Venture, Panorama, Bravacasa, and Bali & Beyond.


Words, sentences, stories... these are my passion. I love to take new challenges in writing for various format and media. I create contents for websites, blogs, and communication materials. I’ve also worked as a copywriter, translator, coffee book editor, social media coordinator, media consultant, and even writing for a specialty coffee packaging.


Interior design, travel, environment, culinary, culture, history, and social issues are some of the themes that I have worked with in the past. I love getting involves with individuals, companies, organizations, and communities with stories to tell.


I am available for assignment worldwide. Reach me at eve(dot)tedja(at)gmail(dot)com.

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