Leila S. Chudori: Not Daunted by Taboos

Leila S. Chudori, whose works span decades, began writing fiction at the age of 12 for the children’s and teen magazinesSi KuncungKawanku. The short stories she wrote as a child and adolescent were later published in the collectionsSebuah KejutanEmpat Pemuda Kecil, and Seputih Hati Andra.


Leila’s experience with writing was not limited to teen fiction. She went on to work in the field of journalism. She has worked for Tempo magazine since 1989. During her career as a journalist, she has interviewed world figures like Cory Aquino, Fang Lizhi (a physicist and Tiannamen figure), Robert Mugabe, and Nelson Mandela. Leila also has written extensively about language and film. She has also produced screenplays, most notably for the mystery miniseries titledDunia Tanpa Koma, and the films Drupadi and Kata Maaf Terakhir.

Yet, throughout her career as a journalist, she has continued to develop as a fiction writer.  Her short story collection titledMalam Terakhir has attracted praise both domestically and internationally. Her fiction works, which characteristically delve into the darker spaces of politics in Indonesia, have been widely analyzed discussed and honored with various awards.  

"In 2006, I felt it was time for me to write a novel about people who had been victimized," Leila says. She explains that, when she was a university student in Canada, she had an opportunity to go to Paris, where she met a number of Indonesian political exiles. They were living in exile because they stood accused of being involved in the events of 1965, Lela says. Her encounters with these people motivated her to find out more about what had happened to them and to write about "the people who were victimized back then."

Although her short stories published under the title Malam Terakhir (1989) after she returned from Canada did not explicitly pinpoint the experiences of the exiles, they did motivate literary figure HB. Jassin to praise Leila in his introductory remarks for the book for "not hesitating to discuss things considered taboo in a traditional society”. These short stories have been translated into German and analyzed by literary critic Tinneke Hellwig in her works about women writers in Southeast Asia.

Twenty years afterwards, Leila published her uniquely formatted collection of short stories titled 9 Dari Nadira. Then, in 2012, she published her novel titled Pulang, about the people forced into exile and the initiation of the reform era in 1998. In this video interview, Leila explains her creative processes for Pulang and her other literary works.