Learning from the Indonesian Writers’ Residence Program

Learning from the Indonesian Writers’ Residence Program

Ria Utari


    Virginia Woolf ever wrote: “every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works”. The works of a writer reflect her soul‘s secrets, life experiences, and quality of her mind. Life experience may become an insightful inspiration for a writer to create wonderful stories. The National Book Committee has been committed to bringing new experience for Indonesian writers by hosting the Indonesian Writers’ Residence program.

In this program, the selected Indonesian writers live in the chosen residency destinations, both in Indonesia and abroad, for several months to finish  their writings according to the plan. Besides, they are also expected to build network inside and outside the country with fellow writers, translators, and publishers, and to promote Indonesian literature and culture in any related events held in the residential destinations. 

Since its first launching in 2016 up to last year,  the National Book Committee has sent 56 writers to several countries. Until 2018, there are 20  countries selected as residential destinations for Indonesian writers, among them are Finland, United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, Netherland, Mexico, France, Poland, Italy, Vietnam, German, Portugal, Cekoslovakia, Peru, Bosnia, Scotland, Japan, Thailand, Suriname, and the Philippines. 

The Indonesian Writers’ Residence program is not only facilitating writers to publish their works in relation to their research, but also supporting the attempt to build cooperation with other countries. This year, the National Book Committee is aimed  participating in the Latin-America book market by attending Guadalajara International Book Fair 2019 to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, on November 30th–December 9th, 2019. Guadalajara International Book Fair is the second largest international book markets in America and the second largest in the world after Frankfurt Book Fair.

As a prominent cultural event for Spanish-speaking countries, Indonesia’s participation in Guadalajara book fair is expected to support the attempt to build cultural diplomation and cooperation for book publishing and marketing with other countries. The cultural diplomation between Indonesia and Latin America countries have been previously developed through Indonesian Writers’ Residence program by the participation of Dea Anugrah (Mexico) in 2017 and Trinity (Peru and Bolivia) in 2018. The works by them, written based on their experience in the residency destinations, provide an insightful description on the society conditions, literacy development, and the lives of Indonesians in those countries.  

In two of his works, Dea narrated his friendship with several main characters in Latin America prominent literary works. “Kaum Bergajul Sedunia, Bersatulah!”, tells the story of Dea’s journey with Salvador, a man three-years older, who accompany him during the journey to Guadalajara by bus. Salvador represents Dea’s admiration towards picaro (bohemian) characters in picaresque novels. “This genre presents the stories of picaro or bohemians who are trying to survive, sometimes in treacherous ways, in this messed-up world which is always against them. Regardless of their deviant behaviour, picaro are mostly pictured to be sincere people. They don’t hide any bad feelings toward other people under the layers of propriety, politeness, and obedience,” wrote Dea in his residency journal. 

Meanwhile, Trinity observed the lives of Indonesian Catholic missionaries in Peru and Bolivia. In her journal, Trinity shared her experience in overcoming the financial issue by staying at the Indonesian Embassy office in Lima and living modestly. She also wrote down her research activities which were mostly done by interviewing and recording the activities of the missionaries. “If you think I wanted to go to Peru because of Machu Picchu, you are wrong. I have been there. So I wanted to go to Peru to work, by following and interviewing the respondents,” wrote Trinity. It shows that the Indonesian Writers’ Residency program is aimed at providing opportunity for writers to conduct their research according to the plan explained in the proposal, not for a holiday trip.

The experiences of Dea and Trinity illustrate the potentials in book industry in Latin-America countries. Since its first establishment in 2016, the National Book Committee has been committed to introduce the potentials of Indonesian literature from authorship, translation to publishing, to several international book-market events as the gate to international cooperation. In Europe market, the National Book Committee has been annually attending Frankfurt Book Fair, Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and London Book Fair. The National Book Committee is also contributing in the Middle-East and Asia markets by attending Sharjah Book Fair and Beijing International Book Fair.  It is now the perfect time to widen our network with Spanish-speaking countries. The writers’ residence program to Latin America countries and the National Book Committee participation in Guadalajara International Book Fair 2019 will introduce Indonesian literature to more places and people in the world.