Dear Friends of Lontar,
A few days ago I experienced something akin to time travel: Isla Winarto, a friend and the director of the Indonesian Heritage Society, sent a text message telling me that she had recently come across, in a box of materials dating from the late 1970s, an old ring binder containing translations of Indonesian short stories, some of which she thought I might have translated. She wrote: “I have no idea how the binder came to be in my possession because I don’t think we met until the 1990s. But does this collection ring a bell?”
“Sounds like one I put together at U. of Wisconsin in the 70s,” I texted back. “I’d like to see it!”
As we had already made plans to meet the following day for coffee, she said that she would bring the binder with her.
The next day, when meeting Isla, immediately after a hug-and-kiss, she pulled from her tote bag the binder she’d mentioned.
I knew instantly the binder was mine but its hard cloth cover, rich-black in color forty two years ago, was now speckled from mold, and its metal opener and rings, once a gleaming silver, were now brown with rust.
Opening the binder, I surveyed the table of contents: It was, indeed, a collection of short-story translations, 262 pages of single-spaced typing on both sides of each sheet of paper. But the once-white heavy-grade typing paper was now closer to yellow in color and brown around the edges.
Momentarily forgetting Isla, I skimmed the introduction and, when doing so, I seemed to travel back in time to my office in Van Hise Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin where I worked as secretary for the university’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies during my senior year and the year that followed my graduation (1975-1977).
In the pantry adjacent to my office, Toenggoel Siagian, Director of the Center, and Don Emmerson, professor of political-science, are grousing about having to make their own coffee (a chore I refused to do for them). In the office to the left of mine is John Little, Indonesian linguist and my teacher of Indonesian literature—I was his only student for that subject—who is smiling to himself as he hums a Southern ditty. And in the common room two doors away, PhD candidates, Jean Taylor and Paul Stange, are discussing plans for a brown-bag lunch that John Smail, professor of history, asked them to prepare for visiting scholar, Ong Hokham.
I ignore the convivial chatter as I type, on the center’s new red IBM Selectric, a short introduction to a collection of Indonesian short story translations that I had just finished compiling:
“This collection rose out of need as well as frustration. At present there is no single anthology of Indonesian literature in translation that is complete in any sense of the word. After having spent many, often fruitless, hours in the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Library searching for materials and resources, I resolved to try and save the next interested person some time and effort. In consequence, I began this compilation. And with the exception of two stories which, for reasons of length, I do not include, this collection contains all Indonesian short stories that I know to be available in English translation.”
“Well, is it yours?” Isla asks, bringing me back to the present.
I nod my head but am am still thinking about the collection. How many stories were in it? A grand total of thirty-seven!
Forty-two years later, on October 28, 2017, the Lontar Foundation will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. In its three decades of existence, Lontar has overseen the translation and publication of literary work by more than 850 Indonesian authors. This includes several hundred short stories, almost two thousand poems, tens of plays, and dozens of novels. Because of Lontar’s work, Indonesian literature can now be taught anywhere in the world through the medium of English. Indonesia has finally begun to have a presence on the world’s literary stage.
Please help to celebrate Lontar’s anniversary and the work that it has done by giving to Lontar now. To contribute, please send a message to Tuti Zairati, Lontar’s Chief Financial Officer at [email protected] for Lontar’s bank details. Contributions from persons and companies in the United States are tax exempt if given through Give2Asia. Click the “Donate Now” button to give to Lontar through Give2Asia. [Donate Now]