Linda Christanty: A Flair for Storytelling (by Oyos Saroso HN)*

Posted in Journalism by Linda Christanty on 11/16/2013

For short story writer and journalist Linda Christanty, 2013 is the year of achievements. In October, her short-story collection, Seekor Anjing Mati di Bala Murghab (A Dog Died in Bala Murghab), won two awards: the SouthEast Asia (SEA) Write Award from Thailand and the Prose Award from the Language Institute, Education and Culture Ministry.

The other SEA Write Award 2013 recipients were Haji Hasri Haji (Brunei Darussalam), Sok Chanphal (Cambodia), Soukhee Norasilp (Laos), Mohamed Ghozali Abdul Rashid (Malaysia), Maung Sein Win (Myanmar), Rebecca T. Anonuevo-Cunada (Philippines), Yeng Pway Ngon (Singapore), Angkarn Chanthathip (Thailand) and Thai Ba Loi (Vietnam).

Previously, Linda received a prestigious honor at home twice, the Khatulistiwa Award, for her short story, Kuda Terbang Maria Pinto (The Flying Horse of Maria Pinto, 2004) and her short-story collection, Rahasia Selma (Selma’s Secret, 2010). Linda also once earned the Best Prose Award from the Language Institute, Education and Culture Ministry (2010) for her collected essays on politics and culture, Dari Jawa Menuju Atjeh (From Java to Aceh). Earlier in 1998, Linda secured the Prose Award from the same ministry. Her essay entitled Militerisme dan Kekerasan di Timor Timur (Militarism and Violence in Timor Leste) was chosen as the best article on human rights in 1998.

Expressing appreciation and gratitude for the SEA Award, Linda described it as an inspiration for her to produce more work of a higher quality. The woman, born on Bangka Island on March 18, 1970, has a fairly long track record in literature and journalism in Indonesia. Apart from her short-story collection and essays, Linda’s other writings include "The Kersen Tree" (a short story published in the Asia Literary Journal, Hong Kong, 2006), "Tiro's People" (a feature on Free Aceh Movement members after the Helsinki Accord, published in Arena Magazine, Australia, April 1, 2007), "The Fouth Grave" (published in a journal by the Cornell University Program of Southeast Asia).

“The writers I met in Bangkok acknowledged Thailand as a Southeast Asian nation highly appreciative of literature while their own countries hadn’t yet accorded such high recognition. In their view, the SEA Write Award is very prestigious,” said the author, who once joined the pro-democracy students before the fall of the New Order regime in 1998.

Originally, this award was initiated by a member of the royal family of Thailand who showed great interest in literature, with several Thai companies as sponsors. The government of Thailand later proposed it as a Southeast Asian award, which was approved by other ASEAN member countries.

Thailand’s long track record of appreciation for literary work in Southeast Asia, according to Linda, can be noticed in the “Literary Corridor” in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok, one of the sponsors of the SEA Write Award.

“On the walls of the corridor, the names of SEA Write Award recipients are inscribed on stones, starting in 1979. I saw the names of Indonesian men of letters like Romo Mangunwijaya, Rendra, Sapardi Djoko Damono and others. The Mandarin Oriental was formerly called the Hotel Oriental, where world renowned writer Joseph Conrad [1857-1924] once stayed,” noted the disco enthusiast.

In 1979, the SEA Write Award was first granted to writers from ASEAN countries and Indonesia’s first recipient of this honor was poet Sutardji Calzoum Bachri. Up to 2013, 35 Indonesian authors have received the SEA Write Award. Linda is the fourth female writer bestowed with the same award, the others being Marianne Kattopo (1982), N.H. Dini (2003) and Oka Rusmini (2012).

Although the literary award from the Indonesian government is not yet comparable to that of Thailand, Linda believes Indonesian literature has bright prospects, as indicated by the country’s young authors producing quality writing.

“But it’s not just a matter of writers and their good products. We also need great literary critics,” she pointed out.

Linda claimed she had read literary works since the tender age of eight, covering Indonesian as well as foreign books.

“Later I also learned history, politics, psychology, gastronomy and fashion. Some literary critics begin to read literature as adults or in their college years,” she indicated.

Besides her authorship, Linda was also an active member of the pro-democracy group against the New Order. Her involvement in politics, said Linda, was due to her concern over the situation. Her grandfather was the first to introduce her to politics. Her house used to be a meeting place to discuss world political issues when she was a youngster.

“When Bobby Sands, a Northern Ireland activist, was on a hunger strike, my grandpa protested against the British government. Upon coming back home from school every day, I would ask him if Bobby was still on strike. When Bobby died from his actions, I was very sad. Such experience formed my personality and inspired me to join the struggle for a better life during the rule of [former president] Soeharto,” she recalled.

Linda’s student movement was only a small part of her experiences that later inspired her literary work, establishing her as an Indonesian short story writer with a flair for narration. Linda has amazing story writing abilities, leading to her readers getting carried along. The death of a dog may be commonplace in the public eye, but in the perceptions of Linda, it can turn into an unusual occurrence.

*published by The Jakarta Post, November 12, 2013

Linda Christanty is an author and journalist. Her writing has been recognized by various awards including the national literary award in Indonesia (Khatulistiwa Literary Award 2004 and 2010), award from the Language Center of the Ministry of National Education (2010 and 2013), and The Best Short Stories version by Kompas daily (1989). Her essay "Militarism and Violence in East Timor" won a Human Rights Award for Best Essay in 1998. She has also written script for plays on conflict, disaster and peace transformation in Aceh. It was performed in the World P.E.N Forum (P.E.N Japan and P.E.N International Forum) in Tokyo, Japan (2008). She received the Southeast Asian writers award, S.E.A Write Award, in 2013.

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