As a part of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF), each year a group of young Indonesian writers is chosen to represent the country’s creative talent. Set up in 2008 by Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati, which is also the foundation behind the UWRF, the Emerging Writers Program selects the best wordsmiths from across the archipelago to participate in the annual event, and expand their network within the national and international community of writers. The emerging writers also have their work translated and published in English, gaining an opportunity to place their talent on the international literary scene.
Earlier this year, Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati put out a call to writers across the archipelago, asking them to submit what they consider to be their most outstanding work. During this period, 1,217 writers submitted 1,253 stories, poems and novel manuscripts, the highest number since the program’s inception. The winners were selected by a board of renowned Indonesian writers, including Leila S. Chudori, Warih Wisatsana and Putu Fajar Arcana. “The five selected writers-Chandra Bientang, Ilhamdi Putra, Heru Sang Amurwabumi, Lita Lestianti and Nurillah Achmad-all come from different backgrounds. We have a housewife, a university student, an entrepreneur and a freelance writer,” says the program’s manager, Wayan Juniarta.
While the submissions were very diverse, Wayan says that they were colored by each author’s environment, Indonesian myths and customs, as well as important issues such as patriarchy and inequality. “Chandra Bientang’s short story gravitates around a little girl’s journey of trying to understand her pet cat, her mother, as well as the issue of abortion. Ilhamdi Putra’s poem is a haunting ode to the student activists killed during 1998’s political unrest. Heru Sang Amurwabumi’s short story is a fresh take on an important episode in the history of the Majapahit Empire. Lita Lestianti narrates a tragic story of love and betrayal among honey collectors in rural East Nusa Tenggara, while Nurillah Achmad’s short story is about black magic and a grave robber in East Java.”
Wayan further says that the most common unifying topic of this year’s submissions has been love. “Love, from romantic love between individuals and all its associated pains and joys, to universal love – platonic love that binds a person to their surrounding nature and culture, as well as love in relation to more abstract ideas of nation and God,” he specifies. “We received many simple stories and poems on first love featuring characters who are high school students, and we also received more intricate stories that, for instance, employ myths and folklore to convey love and lamentation for lost forests and abandoned traditional values. We want to love and be loved, and I believe that is the reason why this topic is so popular.”
During this year’s UWRF, which is slated to take place between 23-27 October, the winners of the Emerging Writers Program will appear on panel discussions, alongside prominent Indonesian and international writers, as well as reading sessions. “During previous festivals, panels featuring our Indonesian Emerging Writers have always drawn a huge audience, and over the years the program has become one of the festival highlights,” Wayan says. “The most outstanding works are also selected to be published in the festival’s annual Bilingual Anthology of Emerging Indonesian Writing, which is launched at the festival.”
While Wayan says that he has not seen any major changes in the types of submission and demographic of the participating writers, he points out that the number of pieces of writing received by the board has steadily increased over the years. “What makes us proud is that the submitting writers hail from more than 70 towns and cities across the archipelago. It shows that Indonesia has a vast pool of aspiring writers and we are very proud to play a role in their collective journey to be heard and recognized,” he says. “In 2017 a group of Emerging Writers Program alumni collectively published an anthology of their work independently, and in 2018 a special series of works by UWRF Emerging Writers was published by Comma Books. These are just two examples of how the program can be a major launching pad for further career opportunities.”
The festival’s Emerging Writers Program is only possible with the generous support of its patrons. These individuals and businesses assist with airfares, accommodation and honorariums for Indonesian writers over the course of the festival. By supporting the Indonesian Writers Patron Program, Indonesia’s brave voices, both emerging and established, will continue to be heard.
To become part of the Indonesian Writers Patron Program, please get in touch with the UWRF Partnership Manager Saraswati Ratnanggana by e-mailing : firstname.lastname@example.org.
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