Putu Oka was born July 29, 1939, in Banjar Tegal, Singaraja, Bali. His involvement in the literary world began in the late 1950s, when in high school he began working in theater and doing literary broadcasts on Republic of Indonesia Radio (RRI, Radio Republic Indonesia) stations in Singaraja and in Bali’s capital, Denpasar.
After graduating from high school, Putu Oka Sukanta moved to Yogyakarta to continue his studies at University of Sarjana Wiyata, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1963, he began teaching at Taman Madya, Taman Siswa in Yogyakarta. The following year, he moved to Jakarta and taught Indonesian language at the YPP high school. His interest in issues of the common people and in social problems drew him to the program of the “Lembaga Sastra” (Literary League), which was a division of the People’s Cultural Association, or LEKRA. In 1963 and 1964, many of his writings were published in magazines like Basis, Minggu Pagi, and in two newspapers affiliated with LEKRA, Harian Rakyat and Zaman Baru. This affiliation with LEKRA was what delivered him in 1966 to Tangerang and then Salemba prisons in Jakarta, where he was incarcerated without trial, for ten years.
Putu Oka Sukanta’s many years of experience in prison strongly colored his subsequent life and work. As a former political prisoner, he wore a new identity: “ET” (Eks Tapol, or former political prisoner). This was a stigma that would overshadow his life and the life of his family for years—for the entirety of the New Order if not until the present day. In a number of his works, such as “Nama Saya ET,” “Ketika Aku Bertanya,” and “Bermula Dari KTP,” he describes the process he calls “dehumanization” in poetic form—the social marginalization and abasement of those branded with the stamp “ET.”
Putu Oka Sukanta’s published poetry anthologies include Selat Bali (Bali Straits), Salam (Greetings), and Tembang Jalak Bali (The Song of the Starling). His published short story anthologies include Keringat Mutiara (Sweat of Pearls) and Luh Galuh.
Putu Oka Sukanta is now known not only as a poet and novelist, but as an acupuncturist as well. He gained his expertise in acupuncture while in prison, from a doctor named Lie Tjwan Sin. He also is active in disseminating information about HIV/AIDS, so that the community will understand how to treat AIDS victims humanely. He deals with this subject in his book, Kerlap-Kerlip Mozaik (Sparkling of Mosaic).
With his expertise in acupuncture, Putu Oka Sukanta is able to support his family. He now lives in Jakarta with his wife Suhendah Plasmadiwati, whom he married in 1986, and (daughter) Sarsa Madyamika, who was born in 1990.