Ayu Utami is not a typical Indonesian. She is known to have challenged norms and stereotypes, both in her works and private life. Through her literary works, the journalist-turned-author talks about sex, politics, and history; a recherché stance that initiated the sastra wangi movement in Indonesian literature, where young women take on such unconventional or even controversial issues. Ayu Utami’s debut novel Saman is one of Indonesia’s most important and internationally acclaimed work, one of few works to have won the Prince Claus Award and has been reprinted 34 times.
This senior writer and poet from Indonesia has managed to make himself relevant still through his decades of gracing the literary scene. His political weekly column during the 1970s in the self-founded Tempo Magazine is still widely appreciated and referenced by younger authors. But beyond that, Goenawan Mohammad has also dignified Indonesia’s literary sphere with poetry, essays, and plays, all reverberating with bold and liberal political notions.
Andrea Hirata’s debut novel Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops) cemented his name as a talented and influential author from Indonesia. The 2005 novel, which was set in the small and pristine Belitung Island off the coast of Sumatra, helped establish the region as an up-and-coming tropical destination. There’s even a literary museum built in that area to celebrate the local-born author. Since The Rainbow Troops series, Andrea Hirata has published other best-selling novels and inspired a movie and serial TV that adapted his best works.
Sapardi Djoko Damono
Due to his long and successful career, this Indonesian poet is like the patron saint of Indonesian prose and poems. He is widely loved for his straightforward and non-pretentious poems, while still reflecting literary charms and eloquence in every line. He also wrote short stories and novels, the latest being Pingkan Melipat Jarak, published in 2017 when he was 77 years old. Due to their popularity, many of Sapardi’s works have been translated into many languages, including different local dialects.
Dewi “Dee” Lestari
This singer-turned-author has nine excellent books under her belt, four of which have been adapted into movies. Starting out her career with self-publishing, her name has now frequented the bestseller list more times than most. Her award-winning Supernova series was so highly anticipated and still represents Indonesian fiction at its best. Dee Lestari is also widely respected in the authors and creative community as an inspiration, and at times she appeared as a guest of honour in international book fairs.
Djenar Maesa Ayu
Djenar Maesa Ayu, or Nay, is a rather controversial public figure loved and hated for her candid and frank voice reflected in her novels, short stories, essays, and films. She talks about sex and other ‘taboos’, as many conservatives would call it. Her elaborate and insightful take on sexuality, gender roles, relationships and the like granted her numerous awards and international fans.
Intan Paramaditha has an extensive range of acclaimed work, from academic papers, cultural study, to page-turner fictions. Aside from her novels, short stories, and anthology, Intan’s works have also been published in Indonesia’s most prestigious media like Kompas and Koran Tempo. Many of her literary pieces are highly indigenous, dense with cultural insights and intrigues that make her works so intelligent and enjoyable at the same time.
Ahmad Fuadi made a name for himself since day one, when his debut novel Negeri 5 Menara (The Land of Five Towers) broke his publisher’s sales record and later inspired a movie that became one of Indonesia’s most-watched movies in 2012. Beyond his fascinating fictions, Ahmad Fuadi is an accomplished journalist with prestigious scholarships and fellowships, as well as international reporting experiences.
Leila S. Chudori
For her bestselling Pulang and Biru Laut, the talented journalist turns to fiction to convey the intense stories and realities that came with Indonesia’s 1998 crisis. She also wrote scripts and short stories, many of which are exceptionally well-received and have been translated to different languages.
Fortunately for Indonesia’s literary scene, Feby Indriani’s made the bold decision to leave journalism to focus on literature in 2013. Since then, she has published several highly-anticipated books, including the 2017 Relaksasi Beragama (Relax, It’s Just Religion) and short stories collection Bukan Perawan Maria (Not Virgin Mary), which covers satires about the realities of being a woman and a Muslim in Indonesia.