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Rain Chudori: Rattling cages with Comma Books

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, December 16, 2018  /  08:33 am
Rain Chudori: Rattling cages with Comma Books

Rain Chudori is the brains – and writer – behind Comma Books, an imprint of Penerbit KPG. (JP/Devina Heriyanto)

That Rain Chudori is a writer is indisputable. She shares not only blood but also her penchant for writing with her mother, journalist and writer Leila Chudori, and with her grandfather, the late journalist and The Jakarta Post co-founder Muhammad Chudori. Her first book, Monsoon Tiger, came out in 2015, followed in 2017 by a novel set in Jakarta titled Imaginary City, as well as short fiction and nonfiction pieces in various publications.

When the Post sat down with Rain on Sunday, what emerged was her many other roles with Comma Books (c/b), an imprint under Penerbit KPG of the Kompas Gramedia Group. Today, she is a curator, editor, translator and possibly a screenwriter, too.

As a curator, she works in tandem with creative partner Aditya Putra. While  manuscript editing and creative design are traditionally separate, c/b aims to bring the two together. Rain noted that Comma Books' business model and marketing style tried to emulate publishers of popular books to bring literature to the masses, even though that many, if not most, of its writers were debut authors and hence, relatively unknown.

Don’t let the name fool you: Comma Books is not about pauses. In its first year alone, c/b published 16 titles, many of which received critical acclaim as bestsellers. Rain’s vivacity continues to give birth to new titles and this spirit is palpable throughout the publisher's catalog.

“We think about books and what lies beyond books,” Rain said. Comma Books does not limit itself to just one genre or published form. Next year's plans includes art books, graphic novels and audiovisual products. With her background in filmmaking, Rain will also don a screenwriter's cap.

Of course, she is also thinking of writing another book. Yet she struggles to find the time amid all that she already does.

“It’s because I’m a Scorpio, I just can’t sit still,” she said, “I’m a very YOLO [you only live once] kind of person. I have to let all these creations out.”

At 24 years old, Rain constantly uses social media, although her accounts are now handled by her staff. Her tweets are hashtagged, her Instagram feed has a minimalist esthetic, her speech is riddled with code-switching – all telltale signs that the writer belongs to the current digital generation, and she knows it.

Like many of her peers, Rain's gender awareness shapes the way she sees the world, including the publishing industry. She points out that there is a disparity among male and female writers, although women mainly did the work behind the scenes in publishing.

“What I can do is to be a female writer along with my friends and to share this [Comma Books] platform,” she said, “I believe that when you have privilege, knowledge, network and currency, you have to share it. You can’t just keep it to yourself.”

Network and connection are two things that she brings to Comma Books, and they also influence her work: for instance, her job as a translator. Rain is currently translating Bagaimana Tuhan Menciptakan Cahaya (How God Created Light), which was also published under the c/b imprint. The book is the first manuscript she handled at c/b, was written by one of her close friends, Raka Ibrahim, and the translation project received a LitRI grant from the National Book Committee (KBN).

“Translating is not my main job, but it is something that I am willing to do on request. But because it’s not my main job, I’ll do it only for certain [manuscripts] that I really love or certain institutions that I respect,” she said.

Raka was supposed to translate Monsoon Tiger in return, but the plan was dropped. “He’s just too busy,” said Rain.

So Monsoon Tiger's translation continued without Raka. The Indonesian edition is titled Biru, and her mother Leila and her boyfriend Abi Dharmoyo completed the translation. Rain laughed when the Post commented on her close-knit circle.

“We are like a family. Because of that, we dare to have conflicts and open discussions. We also understand how each of us works, so there’s some kind of synchronization,” she said.

Last weekend, Comma Books celebrated its first anniversary at an event aptly named “A Little Pause”. Some of its published authors attended, and they shared trade secrets through writing workshops, poetry readings, drank coffee and took Instagram pictures.

In her opening speech, KPG senior editor and Comma Books supervisor Christina M. Udiani recalled the imprint's beginnings. “It’s as if Rain was a little girl, asking us – the old and worn – to come play with words,” she said.

Rain does indeed play with words – and rattle cages – with Comma Books: she is shaking up the national publishing industry. For the time being, at least to all appearances on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, Rain has no plans of stopping.