Carla Bianpoen, Contributor, Jakarta
The Lontar Foundation, which has built a reputation for promoting Indonesian literature and culture, has established the Lontar Literary Awards to mark its 15th anniversary early next year.
The foundation will also present the 2001 Lontar Life Achievement Award to author Nh Dini for 40 years of dedication to Indonesian literature, and the 2001 Lontar International Award to Prof. A. Teeuw of the Netherlands, who has done much to promote the translation and dissemination of Indonesian literature abroad.
A jury consisting of John McLynn, Melani Budianta, Riris Toha Sarumpaet, Nirwan Dewanto and Sapardi Djoko Damono has selected two titles from l87 titles published between 1999 and 2001 to be awarded the Lontar Literary Award.
They are Celana (Pants), a collection of poems by Joko Pinurbo published by Indonesia Tera of Magelang, and Kemilau Cahaya dan Perempuan Buta (The Dazzle of Light and the Blind Woman), a collection of short stories by Gus tf Sakai published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in Jakarta.
The selection was based on literary merit and the books' relevance for translation into English. Each of the Lontar Literary Award winners will receive Rp 5 million in cash.
It seems that the panel of jurors gave priority to works focusing on the essential values of human existence. Subtle yet tangible; evocative instead of provocative, as well as delicate aesthetics, those are the characteristics that stand out in the selected books.
They mostly deal with the marginalized in society, the humble folk, while their themes refer to the violence that shatters the hopes of a decent life, these folks' hidden sufferings and dire humor, but above all their inner truth.
Taking a tone of rare aesthetics, the stories and the poems lead one to the darkest corners of one's conscience, evoking soul-searching questions that would otherwise have remained pushed down to the depths of ignorance.
Are we living to the fullest or are we slumbering through life, letting the most essential of our existence pass by in ignorance?
In the case of the collection of poems, Melani Budianta says Celana is an asset to Indonesian literature.
""I imagine how it will spur people's fascination, not only because of a free pass to imagination, but above all because it stirs the soul,"" she says.
Ranjang (Bed), says Melani, which is the title of 12 out of the 42 poems, is in fact the place where the poet lets his imageries meander, from the profane to the sacred, from birth unto death. And, quite in keeping with the nature of the poems, Melani adds, it's here too that we dream, and it's here where reality is more absurd than the dream.
For Riris K. Toha Sarumpaet, Celana is a collection of reflective thoughts on social realities, themes that survive the passing of time. Life and death and the massive desolation in between are dealt with in a language that testifies to narrative skill, awareness of sound and a sense for the figurative as well as the paradoxical, she says.
As for the short stories in the collection by Gus tf Sakai, who is from Payakumbuh, West Sumatra, they are set in a world that borders on the edge of dreaming and the fringe of reality.
Weighted on the somber side, they question deteriorating values of humanity. Yet, instead of pointing a finger in protest, they tend to subtly shake the emotions to a wake-up call of wonder and reflection.
Each of the 18 stories in the collection has been published before in such media as Kompas, Media Indonesia, Republika, The Jakarta Post and Gatra.
The Lontar Foundation is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1987 by Goenawan Mohamad, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Umar Kayam, Subagio Sastrowardoyo and John H. McGlynn to promote Indonesian literature and culture.
Lontar publishes English translations of Indonesian literature, makes documentary films on influential Indonesian writers and on the oral traditions of the archipelago. The foundation also sponsors the arts, as well as educational projects.
The foundation's office is at Jl. Laut Tawar No. 53, Pejompongan, Jakarta, 10210.