People still call him “Willy” although his name changed to Wahyu Sulaiman Rendra when he converted to Islam in 1970. From birth until the age of 35, he was known as Willibrordus Surendra Broto, or W.S. Rendra.
Rendra is known not only as a poet, but also as a dramatist.
Born in Solo, Central Java, on Thursday, November 7, 1935, from a Javanese Catholic family. He was educated from kindergarten through high school in the city of his birth. He continued his studies at the Literature Department at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta. His enjoyment of dramatic performance began when he was in high school.
In 1957, Rendra won the literary award from the Consultative Body for National Cultural (Badan Musawarat Kebudayaan Nasional) for his poetry compilation Balada Orang-orang Tercinta. His name was immediately championed as the master ballad verse, and subsequently many young Indonesian poets imitated his style. He received numerous awards, among them the Wertheim Encourage Award 1991, and the SEA-Write Award 1996.
In the 1980’s, he became known as “a leaflet poet” as he wrote socially conscious poetry. He is respected by the public at large for his courage and skill at articulating the aspirations of society. His poems have been translated to many languages, including English, Dutch, German, Japanese, Russian and Hindi. In1957, he had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union; he also lived in the United States for three years (1964 – 1967) while studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Art, New York.
After returning from New York, Rendra founded the Bengkel Theater. With his apprentices at Bengkel, he caused a great public stir with their “Kaum Urakan” encampment at Parangtritis beach in 1972.
Sunarti Suwandi (Almarhum) is his first wife. She was the woman who inspired much of Rendra’s early poetry. In 1970, Rendra converted to Islam and married Sitoresmi Prabuningrat, one of his colleagues from Bengkel Theater. Currently, Rendra lives with his third wife, Ken Zuraida, and his Bengkel Theater protégés in the village of Cipayung on 2.5 hectares of farmland and livestock to provide for their daily needs