Moment in sun for young writers

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The Jakarta Post – 05/11/2008 – Headlines

Emmy Fitri & Daniel Rose

A band of young authors, with brave new ideas and works, are leading the country’s literary scene out of a period of stagnation.

An entire genre is dedicated to them: teen-lit or teen literature, the sister genre of chick-lit, in which the story is told Sophie Kinsela-style.

But there is no sense questioning the merit of the work of these young writers and entering a state of being stalemated.

As author Martin Aleida puts it, “Literary taste is very subjective and attempts to rate popular fiction tend to create endless discussion.”

Martin is of the belief that teenage writers have taken the right path to express themselves: through their work.

“Some consider that these works by teenagers are responsible for the bastardization of the Indonesian language, with which I have to agree. But I am also convinced that it’s part of the growing-up process for young writers. Only time will tell. As they grow older, their command of the language will mature.” Martin said that in a country in which reading was not a popular pastime, the efforts of young writers were deserving of appreciation.

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Whether they write literary or popular fiction, young writers have seized the opportunity to meet the market demand from young adults and teenagers.

“Young readers definitely prefer to read the work of people of a similar age,” said Martin whose short story anthology Leontin Dewangga won a literary award in 2004.

“It’s good that young people have begun writing as a means of expression, because one of the weaknesses of our culture is that people tend not to be able to articulate their opinions. Writing is a great way of exercising (that ability),” he said.

Young writers have been important throughout the course of the country’s literary history, like Chairil Anwar, which today is a household name.

Starting out his career as a poet and fiction writer at the age of 19, Chairil, along with Asrul Sani and Rivai Apin, was one of the pioneers of the 1945 literary movement that resulted in the birth of modern Indonesian poetry. Perhaps, history repeats itself.

But Martin, who also began sending his prose to literary magazines in his youth, disagrees. “Young writers today don’t have a vision (like Chairil did). They do not think politically and socially for a greater cause. They only write about their teenage world.” However, not all young writers can be so easily categorized.

Surabaya-based Stefani Hid, 22, has three novels in print. Though seemingly carefree, she is not afraid to deal with heavy issues like depression and death.

“I write to get my problems out of my head. I mold anything that is clamoring inside it into sentences. It’s a good form of therapy,” she said.

Ratih Kumala, 27, also said she wrote about serious issues. “I grew up in Solo, and older writers there believe in finding inspiration from within, but I prefer to go out, hang out with all sorts of people,” said Ratih whose novel Tabula Rasa won third place in the Dewan Kesenian Jakarta’s Novel Competition 2003.

Perhaps, the time has come for the older generation to share the spotlight on the literary stage. Younger writers have an avalanche of ideas to offer, and could do with the support of more experienced writers.

“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some teen-lit novels too. I believe it’s their time,” Martin said.


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