9 Best Indonesian Authors Of All Time

Here, we summarized the best Indonesian authors you’ll want to add to your must-read list.

Indonesian writers offer the world unique literary and storytelling history that dates back to the 8th century.

Indonesia is a beautiful archipelago between the Pacific and Indian oceans, connecting South and East Asia with Oceania. While Indonesian is the country’s official language, many books and other works written by Indonesian authors are translated into English and other languages so that readers worldwide can enjoy them. Many people in Indonesia also speak Malay, a language that shares its name with a group of people indigenous to the country.

Sadly, many indigenous people in Indonesia must continue to fight for their independence and rights. Over time, people have had to fight to preserve their history. Both storytelling and literary works have made it possible for history to be passed down from generation to generation. While much Indonesian literature focuses on the fight for human rights and fair treatment, Indonesian authors regularly forge into surrealism and fiction, painting unique pictures for readers.

Indonesian literature has a storied history, with widespread impromptu story sharing known as pantun. This form of improvisational storytelling has shaped much of what readers see from Indonesian literature today. The Javanese, another group of people indigenous to Indonesia, are known for their love of poetry, often referring to poets as a voice on the wind.

Popular Indonesian Authors

Best Indonesian Authors

Here, we’ll explore the most famous writers of novels, short stories, poetry, and other literature from Indonesia, from famed writers who have shaped Indonesian literature to those who are making waves today.

1. Andrea Hirata

Best Indonesian Authors: Andrea Hirata
JulianArbi2, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1967 in Belitung, Andrea Hirata is best known for his 2005 bestseller The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi). The well-educated author started higher education by earning his economics degree, then making his master’s degree at Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom.

Hirata wrote his first novel, The Rainbow Troops, over six months. The book describes the author’s experiences as a child in Indonesia. Much of the book touches on the dissonance between the wealth of the island and the lack of opportunity for Indonesian children. Hirata has written three sequels to The Rainbow Troops: Sang Pemimpi, Edensor, and Maryamah Karpov.

The Rainbow Troops was made into a movie three years after the novel was published. The film went down in history as the most-viewed Indonesian movie.

While writing The Rainbow Troops, Hirata worked at a telecommunications company. The book’s success allowed him to quit his day job and entirely focus on his writing career. In 2010, Hirata attended the International Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Sale
The Rainbow Troops: A Novel
  • Sarah Crichton Books
  • Hirata, Andrea (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 02/11/2014 (Publication Date) - Sarah Crichton Books (Publisher)

2. Ayu Utami

Best Indonesian Authors: Ayu Utami
Crisco 1492, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ayu Utami is an Indonesian author widely credited with starting the Sastra Wangi movement. Sastra Wangi describes a new type of Indonesian literature by women interested in taking on challenging societal issues. Utami’s political work has paved the way for other Indonesian women to tackle topics like sexuality and religion. Utami worked as an underground journalist, as some magazines in the area have gone through periodic bans due to changing political structures.

The author grew up in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. She studied language and literature throughout her college years and was selected as a finalist in a beauty contest in 1990. She chose not to move forward with a modeling career.

The author has worked as a writer for many magazines in Indonesia, including D&R, Humor, Matra, and Forum Keadilan. Utami’s 1998 novel, Saman, is considered her most widely-read work. Saman won the first prize from the Jakarta Arts Festival in 1998 and also won the Prince Claus Award. Utami wrote a sequel to the novel entitled Larung.

Saman
  • Utami, Ayu (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 200 Pages - 11/09/2015 (Publication Date) - Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia (Publisher)

3. Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Best Indonesian Authors: Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Deppen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Indonesian author, economist, and historian Pramoedya Ananta Toer was born in the Dutch East Indies in 1925. Toer’s works span many years of Indonesian history, from when the country was under Dutch Rule to the regimes of Sukarno and Suharto. His work is known for infusing complex historical and political themes from real-world events in Indonesia during his lifetime.

Like many Indonesian authors, some of Toer’s works were banned when they went against the Indonesian government. Toer was also arrested and incarcerated under Suharto’s regime. He was not allowed to write while in prison, but he managed to develop his most well-known series, Buru Quartet. The Quartet consists of four historical fiction books that detail the history of Indonesia during the time that Toer was growing up. Toer did his research for the books before entering prison and composed the novels orally. Other prisoners helped him preserve his work, as he was not permitted access to writing materials.

When Toer was released from prison, he often wrote critical articles against the Indonesian government. In addition to journalistic work, he wrote The Girl From the Coast, based on his grandmother’s life.

Throughout his life, Toer won many awards, including the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award (1988), the Stitching Wertheim Award (1992), the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts (1995).

This Earth of Mankind (Buru Quartet)
  • Toer, Pramoedya Ananta (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 05/01/1996 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

4. Eka Kurniawan

Best Indonesian Authors: Eka Kurniawan
Peter Norrthon, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first Indonesian author to be nominated for the Man Booker International Prize, Eka Kurniawan is known for several novels, including 2015’s Man Tiger and 2019’s Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash. The author is also a screenwriter. In addition to books and scripts, Kurniawan enjoys penning short stories and essays.

Currently, his work has been translated into more than 24 languages. One of Kurniawan’s books, Beauty is a Wound, was listed as a top 100 notable book by The New York Times. Kurniawan describes the book as taking a head-on approach to social issues in Indonesia.

Kurniawan has been heralded as Indonesia’s most exciting author. Many fans appreciate his ability to talk about difficult social issues without beating around the bush. He draws attention directly to problems that have long needed to be solved.

Readers haven’t only noticed Kurniawan’s ability to make the surreal real—moviegoers are also enjoying the author’s work. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash was made into a movie released in 2021. The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike. After its debut at the Locarno Film Festival, the movie won the top festival prize—the Golden Leopard for Best Film.

Sale
Beauty Is a Wound
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Eka Kurniawan (Author) - Jonathan Davis (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/05/2016 (Publication Date) - Audible Studios (Publisher)

5. Intan Paramaditha

Best Indonesian Authors: Intan Paramaditha
Ugoran Prasad, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Best known for her novel The Wandering, Dr. Intan Paramaditha is a short story writer and professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Paramaditha is heralded for both her writing and academic work and her commitment to feminism despite a challenging political climate in Indonesia.

The Wandering won several awards, including the Tempo Best Literary Fiction Award, the English PEN Translates Award, and a Translation Fund Grant from PEN America.

Paramaditha is also dedicated to Indonesian poetry and serves as Deviant Disciples: Indonesian Women Poets editor. In addition to her novels, poetry, and short stories, Paramaditha has also written several scholarly articles at Macquarie and at Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Indonesia. Her academic papers have been published in many peer-reviewed journals, including Film Quarterly, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, and Visual Anthropology.

The author is committed to giving back to others and co-founded Sekolah Pemikiran Perempuan. This organization works to create interventions to help women in developing nations fight back against systems that keep them from achieving. The SPP program offers Schools of Thought symposiums that allow women and girls to come together to share ideas and encourage one another in the face of heteropatriarchal systems that threaten their ability to succeed.

Apple and Knife
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Paramaditha, Intan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 276 Pages - 03/01/2018 (Publication Date) - Brow Books (Publisher)

6. Sapardi Djoko Damono

Best Indonesian Authors: Sapardi Djoko Damono
Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sapardi Djoko Damono was widely considered the first lyrical poet of Indonesia. As a child, Damono loved reading, and he began writing poetry at a young age. He began studying literature at Gajah Mada University and eventually earned his graduate degree. In 1993, Damono became a professor at the University of Indonesia.

The author’s first poetry collection, DukaMu Abadi (Your Eternal Sorrow), was published in 1969. The collection focuses on how difficult it can be to question one’s existence and discusses the human condition.

Following DukaMu, Damono wrote Akuarium (Aquarium) and Mata Pisau (Knife), both of which were published in 1974. The author was awarded the S.E.A. Write Award for poetry in 1986. Following his highly regarded work in the Indonesian literary field, Damono became unofficially known as the Professor of Indonesian Poets at the University of Indonesia. He once served as the dean of faculty.

Before Dawn
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Damono, Sapardi Djoko (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 188 Pages - 03/13/2013 (Publication Date) - Typhoon Media Ltd (Publisher)

7. Clara Ng

Best Indonesian Authors: Clara Ng
ActuaLitté, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Clara Ng is a Jakarta-born author revered for her children’s and adult literature works. After completing secondary school, Ng left Indonesia to study at the Ohio State University. She then returned to Indonesia for a short time, where she worked at a large corporation. Eventually, she quit her job to become a full-time writer.

Her first series, Indiana Chronicle, received critical acclaim. In addition to her adult fiction novels, Ng has also written many short stories and fairytale collections. As a work-from-home-mother, Ng has a unique perspective on teaching empathy to children and works to make her children’s stories both fun and full of lessons that can be used in life. Some people have criticized Ng for pushing a moral agenda in her children’s books.

One of Ng’s short stories, entitled Barbie, was made into a film in 2010 and presented at the LA Lights Indie Movie Festival. The film started Raffi Ahmad and told the story of a security guard and a singer at a nightclub who were in love.

In addition to receiving widespread public and critical acclaim, Ng has also been recognized by the Indonesian Publisher’s Association with an Adhikarya Award for Best Children’s Book for her 2006 story Rambut Pascal (Pascal’s Hair).

The (Un) Reality Show (Indonesian Edition)
  • Ng, Clara (Author)
  • Indonesian (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 09/06/2014 (Publication Date) - Gramedia Pustaka Utama (Publisher)

8. Dewi Lestari

Best Indonesian Authors: Dewi Lestari
Neal Harrison, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dee Lestari (also known by her full name, Dee Lestari Simangunsong), an Indonesian songwriter, author, and singer, was born in Bandung. Her family was religious and raised her to be active in local music acts. As a teen, she sang backup vocals for popular musicians. Later, she formed a singing group, RSD, with two friends. Together, they released three albums as well as a greatest hits album.

Lestari made her debut as a writer in 2001 with the novel Kesatria, Putri dan Bintang Jatuh (The Knight, The Princess, and The Falling Star), the first book in The Supernova Series. In 2006, she released a short story collection entitled Filosofi Kopi: Kumpulan Cerita and Prosa Satu Dekade (Coffee Philosophy: A Decade’s Worth of Stories and Prose).

The author released another project in 2006 known as Rectoverso, which she dubbed a hybrid of a book and album. The short story collection worked as a lead-up to her debut solo album, Out of Shell.

Supernova: Novel
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Lestari, Dewi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 244 Pages - 12/01/2010 (Publication Date) - The Lontar Foundation (Publisher)

9. Clarissa Goenawan

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-Singaporean writer who has recently been recognized for her novel Watersong, which debuted in 2022. Her other books include The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida (released in 2020) and Rainbirds, her debut novel, which was released in 2018.

Today, Goenawan’s work has been translated into 11 languages. The author has been praised for her thought-provoking, robust work. Her literary mysteries are set in Japan and help readers feel like they’re engulfed in Asian culture.

Watersong
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Goenawan, Clarissa (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 302 Pages - 06/09/2022 (Publication Date) - Scribe (Publisher)

The Final Word On The Best 9 Indonesian Authors

Indonesian authors have faced many challenges over the years, from banned books and topics to changing political regimes to underserved imprisonment. Still, they’ve persevered to continue telling the stories important to their culture. Be sure to keep an eye out for new stories from Indonesian authors so that you can learn what it’s like to live life on an Asian island.

What Are Some Up-And-Coming Titles To Look Out For From Indonesian Authors?

In 2022, keep an eye out for This Earth Of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and The Birdwoman’s Palate by Laksmi Pamuntjak.

What Languages Are Most Indonesian Books Originally Printed In?

Most Indonesian books are initially printed in Indonesian, the country’s official language. Books are often translated into languages that are more commonly spoken and read worldwide, including English and Spanish.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed reading about the best Indonesian authors, check out our guide on the best Russian authors.

You might also like our round-up of the best British authors

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