The importance of literary translation for global recognition

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Before the establishment of the Lontar Foundation, there was virtually no place in the world where one could find translated versions of Indonesian literature. (Lontar Foundation/File)

Since 1987, the Lontar Foundation has been one of the most active independent institutions in translating Indonesian works into English, quietly developing and making local literature accessible abroad as a result.

Before the establishment of the Lontar Foundation, there was virtually no place in the world where one could find translated versions of Indonesian literature, and the foundation itself has remained the only organization since 2009 that focuses on promoting translated Indonesian literature abroad.

But while the foundation itself had a productive few decades behind it, as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Lontar has also fallen victim to the indifference of Indonesians toward the importance of translating those works into English.

Lontar Foundation co-founder John McGlynn once mentioned that even after three decades and the support of many notable Indonesian authors, it remains hard for the arts in general to get sponsored by the government or private investors due to the fact that it has to compete with more lucrative fields that can guarantee higher returns on investment, such as sports.

“The fact is that sales of our books only account for one third of our income. The rest of it comes from contributions from friends and projects that we get asked to do. For example, if someone comes up to us with a book that’s very interesting and is willing to pay us a lot of money, we’ll do that,” McGlynn explained.

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