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Dewi Lestari on the Art of Storytelling

Katrin Figge

The Jakarta Post

London  /  Sat, March 30, 2019  /  11:59 am
Dewi Lestari on the Art of Storytelling

Popular series: Author Dewi “Dee” Lestari poses during the launch of the sixth and final installment of her 'Supernova' series, entitled 'Inteligensi Embun Pagi' (Morning Dew Intelligence). (The Jakarta Post/Yuliasri Perdani)

Ever since she was a child, Dewi “Dee” Lestari harbors a passion for reading and writing.

Growing up in West Java – although her parents came from North Sumatra – Dee’s earliest influences in literature were very modern.

“I read translated works of authors like Alfred Hitchcock and Enid Blyton, but also Japanese comics,” she recalled at the London Book Fair, where Indonesia was selected as Market Focus country this year.

“My family was very artistic, we read books and subscribed to all kinds of magazines, we played music and I sang,” she said. “At that time, in the 1980s, we only had one TV channel, so there wasn’t much entertainment.”

That’s why, Dee said, she resorted to reading and most of all, her own imagination. She was an imaginative child who liked to daydream and loved to create her own stories.

“I fell in love with the art of storytelling at a very early age,” she says.

Crossing boundaries: Singer and acclaimed writer Dewi “Dee” Lestari (left) is featured at the PEN Literary Salon at the London Book Fair, where Indonesia was selected as Market Focus country this year.Crossing boundaries: Singer and acclaimed writer Dewi “Dee” Lestari (left) is featured at the PEN Literary Salon at the London Book Fair, where Indonesia was selected as Market Focus country this year. (Courtesy of London Book Fair/Patrick Tantra)

Dee had been dreaming about publishing her own book since she was 9 years old – it was around the same time she began to write down her ideas and stories in notebooks.

“I found writing had become my ultimate channel to construct my imagination into something that is readable and shareable with other people,” she explained.

Even so, she embarked on a career in music when she was 17. According to Dee, singing came naturally to her and was effortless; it felt like it was something that had been given to her.

In 1993, Dee formed the band RDS (Rida Sita Dewi) with her friends Rida Farida and Sita Nursanti. The group became very popular and released three successful albums as well as a Greatest Hits compilation.

Despite a flourishing career in the music industry, Dee never lost her passion for writing: She’d always find time to put her thoughts on paper – or typing them on a laptop, to be more precise – and in 2001, she finally realized the dream that she had since she was a little girl: She published her first novel, Kesatria, Putri dan Bintang Jatuh (The Knight, the Princess, and the Falling Star), the first book in the series Supernova. She published the book herself and all copies were sold within two weeks.

“It went unexpectedly well – so well, in fact, that I didn’t know what to do and how to handle it anymore,” Dee recalled, laughing. “I was kind of naïve about it and kept thinking, OK, this is great, but where is my money? I didn’t know at the time that I’d only get paid three months after. That’s how clueless I was.”

But her lack of experience in the publishing industry didn’t stop her from continuing to write. Since she was writing a series, she had to follow up with a second book, and from there, she said “the writing career took over my life”.

Dee’s music career faded into the background, and she dedicated most of her time to writing – which suits her personality quite well, as she remarked.

“I think I’m more solitary in nature, so being that free, not having to comprise with anyone and not having to entertain anyone but myself ultimately – that was the kind of freedom I have always dreamed about,” she explained.

This freedom gave her the time to become a truly productive writer; so far, Dee has published eight novels as well as three collections of short stories.

This doesn’t mean that Dee has turned her back on music altogether. In fact, she still writes songs and only realized at a later point in life that her music and her writing have had a profound influence on each other and are inseparably linked.

“When I write songs, I try to create a structure and a complete story, even though I may only have five minutes of time, but I want to achieve this wholesome storytelling in a song,” she explained. “And in my writing, I am very sensitive to rhythm, I feel that sentences contain music and that words create a melody.”

Having moved between different genres for many years, Dee now knows what the connecting thread for all endeavors in her career – and even her life – has been: “I think it is, and always has been, the art of storytelling.” (ste)