Most writers just want to write. But Medy Loekito wants to do more — she wants to make other writers write too.
Medy Loekito, now 47, has long since made a name for herself as one of Indonesia’s leading women poets. She’s also known as the “mother of young writers”, for her dedication to nurturing the careers of the nation’s emerging talents, through the Indonesian Literary Community (KSI).
Medy is also known as the “mother poet of the cyber community” and founder of the Multimedia Literature Foundation, which has launched a literature site that aims to publish literary works to donate to schools and street children.
“Actually KSI is just about young writers; there are also many prominent writers involved,” she says.
Among these are Ahmadun Yosi Herfanda, Bambang Widiatmoko, Endang Supriyadi, Slamet Raharjo Rais, Diah Hadaning and the late poet Azwina Aziz Miraza.
When KSI was created in 1996, the original idea was to gather together the literary community in Indonesia, which at the time of the New Order government was scattered and poorly managed.
The literary community activists, spread from Aceh to Papua, tended to be young writers who found it difficult to break through the hegemony of Jakarta, the center of literature in Indonesia.
“At that time young writers found it very difficult to penetrate the Taman Ismail Marzuki [TIM, the Jakarta arts center]. Just having a discussion on the patio of TIM was difficult,” Medy says.
“Now the past dozen years have proved that there are many young Indonesian writers who are producing works of quality.”
Medy, a mother of two who is also active in the Indonesian Handicraft Workers’ Association, says that organizations such as KSI are important for building young people’s confidence.
“We pick up and walk together to face the rain. We provide houses for their shelter,” she says. “Our organization also teaches its members to respect each other and we encourage mutual support.
“Why is this important? Because, as I see it, some Indonesian writers put themselves on a throne. If young writers follow this style then our literature will be full of battles. There will be no mutual support and there will be no mutual respect and love.”
Medy says she did not set out to be a writer.
“I entered the literary world by accident. In 1976, when I was a teenager I was a pen friend to Kardy Syaid, the writer who is now famous as a movie maker and writer, and who lives far away in North Sumatra,” says Medy, who was born and raised in Surabaya, East Java.
“He was constantly writing to me and sending me his work which was published in newspapers or magazines. He always assured me that I could also be an author.”
This encouraged the teenage Medy to start writing poetry.
“One day I wrote a poem and it was published in a newspaper. I tried again and my work was again published in the newspaper,” she says. “After writing several poems, I tried to write a short story that was also published by the newspaper. Well, after that my trials were over because my ideas helped me explore my abilities.”
Medy Loekito is also one of the very few ethnic Chinese in Indonesia who has persevered in the world of literature.
Unlike many other ethnic Chinese citizens in Indonesia who often push their children to enter the business world, Medy’s parents encouraged their daughter to persevere with writing. Medy’s father closely followed her early career.
“My father always checked with the newspaper sellers,” she added. “That was because I was never told whether my work would be published, and besides, it’s a bit hard to buy a variety of newspapers every day.”
Despite her background, Medy says she has never felt discrimination in the literary world.
“Maybe a lot of people don’t know that I’m Chinese. I certainly enjoy having good friends among writers from various ethnic groups in Indonesia. However, in daily life discrimination against ethnic Chinese is still there.”
Medy, who also works as executive secretary for a Japanese company, is now recognized as one of Indonesia’s leading female poets. Her work has been published in nearly every newspaper and literary magazine in Indonesia, as well as in dozens of books, both her own collections and in more than 20 local and international poetry anthologies. Her solo works include In Solitude (1993) and Jakarta, the Twilight Days (1998).
She has been noticed internationally too, and her name appears in the International Who’s Who in Poetry and Poets Encyclopaedia (1999).
Her poetry is characterized by its brevity, described by Indonesia’s poet president Sutardji Calzoum Bachri as haiku.
“My poetry is silent poetry. It’s lonely poetry. My poems are short, they really have no relationship with other influences … That’s more because my Indonesian isn’t good,” she says.
“When I was young the friends I played with often didn’t understand what I was saying because I speak a mixture of various languages, Chinese, Javanese and Malay. My Indonesian is still an incredible mess.”
She nevertheless speaks out clearly against things she disagrees with, and is vocal in her opposition to “vulgarity in sex” in Indonesian literature, when the issue of erotic literature written by Indonesian women comes to the fore.
Medy admits her opposition has subjected her to a lot of criticism and opposition from some famous writers.
“But I’m not afraid, because talking is a human right,” she says. “Besides, I believe my opinion is correct. The way I see it, there is a difference between literary work and pornography.”