Making a Home For Indonesian Prose Online




Think of us as failed short story writers,” said Prasodjo Chusnato Sukiman. “This is why we’re doing this.”

The 35-year-old was referring to sriti.com, an archive of published short stories in Bahasa Indonesia, which he co-manages with a number of avid readers.

The project traces its beginnings to the 1990s, when Chusnato and fellow students Sjaiful Masri and Taofik Hidayat used to meet under a kapok tree at the Bogor Agriculture Institute to swap books and talk about and cut out short stories published in newspapers.

Calling themselves Salju Bogor (Snow of Bogor), after the cottony fiber that floats from a burst kapok pod, their activities back then attracted the attention of Yanusa Nugroho, a short story writer who taught them literature and writing, and who also introduced them to big-name authors like Ayu Utami and Djenar Maesa Ayu.

Over the years, though, the group’s scrapbooks of short stories began to yellow and fall apart. It was then that Chusnato came up with the idea of retyping the stories and uploading them on the Internet.

“Our goal was to compile literature from print media [in one place],” he said.

Taofik designed a Web site, which they named sriti.com, after a small bird with an injured wing that they found under the kapok tree one time.

“We treated it and the next day it flew away,” Chusnato said. “It was a very moving moment.”

Sriti.com was born on Aug. 15, 2000. It was not easy at the start. “Back then, not many newspapers uploaded short stories onto their official Web sites,” Chusnato said.

Chusnato and Taofik worked on their own for three years, paying for the site’s maintenance out of their own pockets.

The Web site, however, grew steadily. More people joined the project, including Sjaiful Masri, Anggoro Gunawan and Bany Akbar, churning out weekly installments of short stories published in national newspapers like Kompas, Media Indonesia, Republika and Suara Pembaharuan, as well as local publications like Jawa Pos, Batam Pos and Pos Kupang.

Occasionally, a writer would ask to have their story removed from the site. For the most part, however, writers have had no reservations about sriti.com. It now has a collection of 3,394 short stories written by 935 authors and previously published in 53 print media outlets. Sriti.com’s popularity among Indonesian readers has prompted several publishing companies to approach the site’s moderators for a compilation of selected short stories in book form. For a time, most of the site’s moderators held out, saying they did not have the editorial authority as readers and were not as capable of story selection as members of the mainstream media.

Bany, however, had a different opinion. “He said that if we want to get involved in Indonesian literature, we have to produce something that everyone can read, not just those with access to the Internet,” Chusnato said, adding that it was also Bany’s idea to allocate the proceeds of the published project to finance maintenance for the Web site.

They decided to take up Gramedia Pustaka Utama’s offer. Early this month, “Bob Marley dan 11 Cerpen Pilihan Sriti.com 0809” (“Bob Marley and 11 Chosen Short Stories by Sriti.com 0809”) was published. The book is a compilation of 12 short stories archived from January 2008 to August 2009.

The group had initially chosen 15 stories, but had to drop three because the authors would not give permission for their stories to be included in the anthology.

Bamby Cahyadi, 40, whose short story “Aku Bercerita Dari Pesawat Yang Sedang Terbang” (“I Tell a Story From a Flying Airplane”) was previously published in the July 26, 2009, issue of Koran Tempo, said he had no problem having his work archived on sriti.com. Bamby, who manages a fast-food restaurant in Jakarta, said the Web site was “a milestone for Indonesian literature.”

“Though what they are doing seems simple enough, they nevertheless are playing a part in the development of Indonesian literature,” he said, adding that sriti.com had helped introduce readers to authors from around Indonesia who have only been published in local media.

Mirna Yulistiati, from Gramedia Pustaka Utama, said sriti.com was highly recognizable among readers. “When they can’t find a story anywhere else, they turn to sriti.com,” she said.
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