The theme for this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival was ‘Sangkan Paraning Dumadi’, or ‘Origins’ – a term that “speaks to our eternal connection to where we have come from, and to where we will ultimately return.”
This ties in well with the work of John McGlynn, who has devoted his entire life to putting Indonesian literature into the global conversation through the Lontar Foundation (founded in 1987).
Based in Jakarta, the foundation’s core activity is the translation and publication of Indonesian literature. Its long term goals are to stimulate the future development of Indonesian literature; to make Indonesian literature accessible to an international readership; and to preserve Indonesian literature for future generations.
Over a glass of wine, I had the opportunity to spend time with John, whose blood, sweat, and tears over the past 30 years has led to the translation of over 200 books.
I was moved by his commitment, his focus, his tenacity, driven by the belief that, “Books are the essential element of the creative sector.”
Eddie Dobbins (left) and Lontar Foundation’s John McGlynn (right)
Before we met, I had sat and watched a series of Indonesians authors take the stage, to share their works in Bahasa Indonesia at UWRF17. Leila S. Chudori’s first book, Home, debuted at the festival; Home is a fictional account of the impact of the September 30 movement of 1965, leading to the murder of a million or more Indonesians under the Soeharto government, where a whole generation of Indonesians was left in forced silence. It is books such as Home which showcase Indonesian talent in a way that opens up bridges of understanding.
This kind of bridge-building is evident as the Lontar Foundation moves forward into its next phase, (Re) Generation(s), which is focused on younger writers, and on preserving voices that are important on the literary landscape.
During our conversation, John shared with me the unknown future of Lontar Foundation: more specifically, the fact that it faces financial uncertainty. Will an idealistic venture fade into the moonlight – or will someone step up to facilitate a new beginning? Will the Indonesian government step up to the plate? Will another generation of writers be left without a voice?