A Jakarta-based translation organization wants bookworms worldwide to tap into Indonesia’s rich literary reserves, and is turning to cyber technology to spread the word.
The Lontar Foundation is about to launch the world’s first joint English-language and Bahasa Indonesia literature journal online — portraying life in the archipelago from Indonesian perspectives for a global audience, says the foundation’s founder, John McGlynn.
“What Indonesian literature does is say ‘I’m Indonesian and this is my country’,” said McGlynn. “That’s the goal of Lontar — to make the Indonesian voice known outside Indonesia.”
Dubbed “I-Lit”, the journals, due to be released online this month, will comprise contemporary Indonesian prose translated into English, with creative writing and poetry by Indonesian authors, including Dyah Merta, Inggrit Putria Marga and journalist Lily Yulianti Farid, made available to English-speaking audiences via the pixelated pages of
e-books, Kindles and iPads.
The journal’s first issue, entitled “Not Chick Lit”, will contain short stories and poetry by women writers aged in their 20s and 30s, exploring topics from falling in love to sexuality. Its defiant title arose in response to what McGlynn said was a poor reaction to Indonesian women’s contemporary literary efforts.
“Since the 1990s, Indonesian women writers have been the driving force behind developments in Indonesian literature. There was such an explosion of writing they were grouped into what was called ‘chick lit’, which is
essentially a derogatory term.”
The journal’s second issue, entitled “I [Heart] Islam”, will showcase English translations of contemporary writers’ and poets’ musings on what it means to grow up as a Muslim in Indonesia.
A shortage of English translations of Indonesian writing made it difficult for the authors, for whom English was not their first language, to crack international markets, said McGlynn.
“With the number of books published in the English-speaking world … there is a false impression among Indonesian writers that ‘I’m going to make money’.”
He cited only one international success story: the late novelist and polemicist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in Jakarta in 2006. But McGlynn, who has spent 35 years as a translator in Indonesia, remained effusive about the market for English translations of contemporary Indonesian writing.
“I hope that we provide more and more encouragement to people to write,” said McGlynn.
The journal’s launch comes ahead of the Lontar Foundation’s February launch of its online digital library.