Umar Kayam was born in Ngawi, East Java on April 30, 1932. He grew up in Central Java, attending elementary and secondary school education in Solo. Umar Kayam attended Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, studying in pedagogy and philosophy in the Literature Department. In the early 1960’s, Umar Kayam obtained a Master of Arts in Education from New York University. Kayam went on to study at Cornell University and in 1965 received a PhD in Sociology. In 1989, Kayam returned to academics when Gajah Mada University formally installed him as a full professor.
During his undergraduate years, Kayam worked with theater, however after attending NYU, his energies focused on short stories. His first work published wasSeribu Kunang-kunang di Manhattan (A thousand Butterflies in New York,1972). His second book, Sri Sumarah dan Bawuk (1975) is considered one of the most outstanding Indonesian novels of the 1970’s Kayam most popular novel is ParaPriyayi (The Priyayi, 1992). Para Priyayi and Sumarah dan Bawuk portray the socio-cultural-political transformation of Indonesian-Javanese society from the late colonial period to the Indonesia of the sixties. In addition to his career as a writer, Kayam is a noted academic. He has also written film scripts, and has perform in several films, notably as Sukarno in Penghianatan G30S/PKI and performed in the film “Karmila”, and Kugapai Cintamu”.
Every Tuesday since 1987, Umar Kayam wrote a column in Kedaulatan Rakyat. In this column Kayam frequently criticizes the daily life of society with methods which are very Javanese.
Several books have been compiled from his writings in KR, among them: Mangan Ora Mangan Kumpul (Getting Together Whether We are Eating or Not. Jakarta: Pustaka Utama Grafiti, 1990), Sugih Tanpa Banda (Jakarta: P. T. Pustaka Utama Grafiti, 1994), Madep Ngalor Sugih Madep Ngidul Sugih (???) and Satriyo Piningit.
Now, since retiring from Gadjah Mada in 1997, most of his time is spent in Jakarta, near to his family and grandchildren. From his marriage with Rosslina Hanoum (usually called Bu Yus) he has two children, Sita Aripurnami and Wulan Anggraini. From Sita, Umar Kayam has four grandchildren. To pass his free time in west Jakarta Kayam still faithfully writes a column ini KR every Tuesday, and occasionally writes short stories.
Umar Kayam passed away in 2001.