Writer Intan Paramaditha describes herself as an amphibian — living in two separate spaces, one where she is a fiction writer and another where she is a scholar greatly inspired by gender, politics and cultural issues.
“As a writer and scholar I feel myself fractured — linguistically, emotionally and even geographically. But I guess it’s more productive to see the intersecting points, where the themes in my stories are very much informed by my scholarly readings and my fiction writing style has enriched my academic writing,” Intan says.
As a fiction writer, she writes in Indonesian, the language she feels most comfortable with and with Indonesian readers in mind.
But her research and academic writings are mostly written in English in order to accommodate the transnational circle of academia.
Intan is currently living in New York with her 11-year-old daughter and has recently finished her PhD in cinema studies at New York University.
The decision to study film was taken from her point of view as a scholar who desired to see Indonesia better represented in Western academia.
When she took her master’s degree in English literature at the University of California in San Diego, she realized Indonesia was very much underrepresented in Western academia.
“I found this quite surprising because the country is so huge and so complex culturally, socially, politically,” she says.
She felt the need to contribute more by writing about Indonesia outside the country.
“Film is I think the most affordable cultural exchange medium. It’s easier to carry than literary works because they first have to be translated into English and if you do it through theater, it’s expensive because you need to bring the whole group,” Intan said.
She added that Indonesian cinema was a very dynamic medium to talk about the cultural and political shifts that have taken place in the country since the 1998 reform.
“So I started researching Indonesian cinema. I applied to New York University for their PhD program in cinema studies, and received a four-year fellowship,” Intan said.
But she ended up taking seven years to complete her studies, forcing her to find an external award to finance her studies.
“I spent three years mostly in Indonesia for my field research. During those years I also engaged in ‘naughty’ non-academic projects that distracted me from my dissertation,” she said.
Born in Bandung, West Java, Intan knew that she wanted to be a writer since she was in elementary school and would regularly send short stories to Bobo children’s magazine.
As she liked reading Agatha Christie books, many of her stories at that time involved mystery and detectives.
In college, she worked as a journalist for Female magazine for a few years but did not continue her journalism career upon graduating. She instead decided to teach in the English department at the University of Indonesia.
But she never let go of her passion for writing. Since 2004, her short stories have been published in Kompas and Koran Tempo newspapers, mostly concerning personal and political questions about women in a patriarchal society.
Her interest in gender was sparked when she was in college and fought a lot with her father because she saw him as an oppressive figure.
“Being young and naïve, I became angry, rebellious and withdrawn,” the 34-year-old said.
Around that time, she learned about feminist theories and started to pose questions on larger discourses on what might have shaped someone like her father.
“Feminist theories helped me, at first, to understand why my parents behaved the way they did, and later, they served as an important framework to interrogate many forms of patriarchal constructions,” she says.
Furthermore, Intan says she embraced gender studies as a wider umbrella for her intellectual and artistic endeavors to investigate how politics constructs gender and the other way around.
Intan then published her first short story collection, entitled Sihir Perempuan (Black Magic Woman), in 2005. The book was shortlisted for the 2005 Khatulistiwa Literary Award.
“What I liked about the collection is the unity of theme and style — all the stories are about women and they all deploy elements of horror,” said Intan, who was first inspired to write about horror since her thesis on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
She published another collection, Kumpulan Budak Setan (The Devil’s Slaves Club), a tribute to the horror writer Abdullah Harahap with fellow writers Eka Kurniawan and Ugoran Prasad in 2010. One of the stories, Goyang Penasaran (Obsessive Twist), was adapted into a stage play in collaboration with Teater Garasi.
“Goyang Penasaran was both an artistic and activist project, and I discussed that a little bit in my dissertation,” she said.
Her latest short story, Klub Solidaritas Suami Hilang (The Missing Husbands Solidarity Club), which was published in Kompas in 2013, was chosen as the newspaper’s best short story.
Currently, she is revising her dissertation, which is also planned to be published as a book, while working on her latest fiction project, Manusia Kejepit (In-between Human), which will be Intan’s first novel.
“I now have a lot of time to write. I hope I can concentrate on Manusia Kejepit so I can finish it by the end of the year,” she said.
At the same time, however, Intan is continuing to engage in academic activity by teaching at a community college starting this fall until her return to Indonesia next year.
“I think I’ll continue traveling and traversing those two worlds (being a writer and scholar) — a kind of manusia kejepit.”