Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why Indonesian Authors Fail on the World Stage

Why Aren’t More Indonesian Literary Works Being Published Abroad? asks publisher Richard Oh in the Jakarta Globe [via]. He notes that no Indonesian author since Pramoedya Ananta Toer has enjoyed widespread international success, although the country has many fine writers. He gives several reasons for this lacklustre performance on the world stage, but largely points the finger of blame at the authors themselves :
Indonesian authors can be intractable when it comes to interacting with foreign interests. Some remain stalwart about not letting editors circumcise their texts. Apparently they are unaware that Hemingway had a dedicated editor, Maxwell Perkins, who corrected his unruly spelling, or that James Wood, the literary critic, had an editor who is constantly telling him off. ... Communications with some of these writers – whether because of their inability to grasp other languages, or plain disinterest – can brook misunderstandings. ... There are ... also no genuine efforts from the writers themselves to have their works translated. There’s a sense that their work is done, let others worry about the rest. None of these writers, as far as I know, has a literary agent — the ultimate intermediary, who is familiar with the mysterious inner workings of the publishing world. ... I suspect they do not see the need for one, because here a manuscript is either accepted or rejected through the mail. Besides, it is difficult for an impoverished writer to conceive the idea of an agent taking a cut from their meager earnings.
He does, though, see a younger generation of writers as being less complacent.

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