John H. McGlynn, an American citizen who has spent 38 years of his life in Indonesia, knows more about the fields of Indonesian literature and publishing than most Indonesians. He first came to Indonesia in 1976 to learn the art of shadow puppetry, but after becoming fluent in Indonesian, decided to pursue a different career path, first as a translator and then as a publisher of Indonesian literature in translation. Holding an advanced degree in Indonesian language and literature from the University of Michigan, John is a co-founder and current chairman of the Lontar Foundation, the only organisation in the world whose primary focus is the promotion of Indonesia through literary translations. We met at his office in Jakarta to talk about Indonesia’s preparations for being Guest of Honour at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair.
Q: How was Indonesia chosen to be a Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair?
A: The process was a long one. More than a decade ago the Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) discussed the idea of proposing the countries of ASEAN as Guest of Honour (GoH) but this idea came to nought. (The GoH is sometimes not just one country; in 2016, for instance, the GoH will be the Netherlands and Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium.) A number of years later, IKAPI proposed the “Malay World” – Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and other areas where Malay is spoken – but the Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) declined. Finally, in 2011, Claudia Kaiser, Vice President of the Fair made a visit to Indonesia. She met with people from IKAPI and, because of my work in the field of Indonesian literature, contacted me as well. Thereafter, having decided for various reasons that Indonesia would be good choice as GoH, she asked IKAPI to submit a formal proposal in Indonesia’s name alone.