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2023: Celebrating the Chapters

Story / Features

By Valent Mustamin
Jan 01, 2024

As we step into 2024, let’s take a delightful stroll down the memory lane of 2023, where each month unfolded like a captivating chapter in Indonesia’s literary narrative.

The year opened with a bittersweet note as the curtains fell on the life of the iconic Norbertus Riantiarno, or “Nano,” a maestro known for founding Teater Koma and winning accolades for his play “Semar Gugat.” His departure left a void in Indonesia’s artistic landscape.

In March, the literary world glittered with the announcement of the 2023 PEN American Literary Award Winners. Translator Tiffany Tsao stole the spotlight, clinching the PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE for her rendition of Budi Darma’s “People from Bloomington.” The awards ceremony unfolded as a dazzling celebration of literary brilliance, distributing $350,000 across eleven categories, igniting a blaze of recognition for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, and literature in translation.

Tragedy struck in the same month as Lily Yulianti Farid, founder of the Makassar International Writers Festival, bid farewell in Melbourne. The festival, held in June at Benteng Fort Rotterdam, carried a poignant air, missing Lily’s vibrant presence for the first time.

Google added a poetic touch in March, commemorating Sapardi Djoko Damono’s 83rd birthday. Although the celebrated Indonesian poet had departed in 2020, Google’s animated tribute served as a timeless reminder of his enduring impact on poetry.

April celebrated National Poem Day with Miles Films launching “Aku, Chairil,” a visual ode to Chairil Anwar. Mira Lesmana’s vision turned into a seven-episode anthology, a poetic masterpiece paying tribute to a literary giant. Mira Lesmana also unveiled plans for a biopic on Chairil Anwar, a venture that had been in the making since 2021, now taking a different form through the artistry of video.

May brought a double triumph for “People from Bloomington,” securing the 2023 NSW Premier’s Translation Prize after its earlier PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE win. The accolades marked a spectacular achievement, underscoring the seamless translation of Indonesian literary gems into English.

June hosted the enchanting Malam Anugerah Sastra 2023, where Jakarta’s cultural luminaries gathered to celebrate Sutardji Calzoum Bachri’s 82nd birthday, turning the night into a poetic gala. The event, a harmonious collaboration by Dinas Kebudayaan DKI Jakarta, Dinas Perpustakaan dan Kearsipan DKI Jakarta, Pusat Dokumentasi Sastra H.B Jassin, and Taman Inspirasi Sastra Indonesia, unfolded as a grand tribute to a literary maestro.

August whispered its goodbyes as Marga T, a literary luminary, took her final bow in Australia. Her tales, especially “Karmila” and “Badai Pasti Berlalu,” continue to resonate in the hearts of readers. Marga T’s passing marked the end of an era, with over half a century of prolific storytelling.

September unfurled the literary scrolls at the HB Jassin Literature Documentation Center’s Travel Exhibition. Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s initial manuscript of “In the Bekasi River Bank” novel and the “Bumi Manusia” script captivated visitors at Taman Ismail Marzuki. The exhibition became a portal into Indonesia’s literary history, revealing the evolution of seminal works.

Meanwhile, seven titles, including Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie’s “Kita Pergi Hari Ini,” translated by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, were selected for the second issue of PEN Presents, the English PEN award for sample translations.

October held a blank page as the Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) decided to skip the Frankfurt Book Fair, scheduled to take place from October 18-22, leaving the literary world curious about the untold stories that might have been woven. The head of IKAPI Arys Hilman mentioned that there will be no Indonesian attribute or Indonesian flag as well as Ikapi’s presence during the fair even if the stand has been built.

October in Bali dazzled with the 20th Ubud Writers & Readers Festival UWRF), painting the town with words under the theme Atita, Wartamana, Anagata: The Past, the Present, and the Future. The festival’s milestone anniversary transformed Bali into a literary haven, echoing with the voices of authors, poets, and literary enthusiasts.

Bandung’s traditional Rancage Literary Award found a new home in Bali’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. A January announcement illuminated the winners, including Hadi AKS, I Wayan Dibya, Narko S. Budiman, Saut P. Tambunan, and Zabidi Yakub, adding another chapter to the Yayasan Kebudayaan Rancage legacy. The transference of the award ceremony to Bali symbolized a shift in the literary landscape.

November saw Nuril Basri donning laurels as he clinched the ‘Grand Prix Du Roman Gay Traduit 2023‘ in France, shining a spotlight on Indonesian queer representation on a global stage. Nuril Basri’s triumph marked a significant stride towards diverse and inclusive narratives.

November’s crescendo echoed with UNESCO celebrating Ali Akbar Navis’ birthday internationally, a harmonious tribute aligning with UNESCO’s vision of honoring cultural luminaries. Ali Akbar Navis, known as AA Navis, a distinguished Indonesian writer and humanist renowned for several major literary works, with one of his most critically acclaimed pieces being “Robohnya Surau Kami,” joined the ranks of international literary figures whose birthdays become moments of global celebration.

A symphony of translations in various languages embraced the literary world in 2023, include “About Us” by Reda Gaudiamo, “Birth Canal” by Dias Novita Wuri, “Le rat d’égout” in France by Nuril Basti, and two translations of Intan Paramaditha’s “The Wandering” were published in Turkish, titled “Serseri,” and in Polish, titled “Wędrówka.” As a grand finale, Sabda Armandio’s “24 Hours with Gaspar” leapt from the pages to the Netflix screen on March 14, 2024, promising a cinematic spectacle. The adaptation brought the dystopian crime drama to life, starring Reza Rahadian, Laura Basuki, Shenina Cinnamon, and Kristo Immanuel, creating a visual feast for literature enthusiasts.

As each page turned, 2023 revealed itself as a compelling chapter in Indonesia’s literary narrative, imprinting lasting memories in the hearts of readers and the pages of literary history.

What other moments do you believe deserve a place in this literary journey?


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