Q&A with Azri Zakkiyah, UWRF16 Emerging Writer and EWF speaker

Posted: 26 May 2017

Azri Zakkiyah (second from left) with fellow UWRF16 Emerging Writers at the launch of our annual bilingual Anthology of Emerging Indonesian Writing.

Each year, we partner with the Emerging Writers’ Festival to support aspiring authors in Indonesia and Australia. After having her work published in our annual anthology last year, Indonesian writer Azri Zakkiyah has been selected to join the EWF and will be heading to Melbourne in June. We spoke to Azri about what she’s most looking forward to at EWF, and found out about her life-changing UWRF16 experience.

You will be appearing in two Emerging Writers’ Festival sessions, Our Invincible Summer on Opening Night and Stories from the Archipelago. What are you planning to share during these sessions, about your writing and about yourself?

For Our Invincible Summer, I would like to read one of my short pieces of writing in Indonesian. It is related to ‘Tat Tvam Asi’: I am You, You are Me, UWRF’s theme last year, and ‘Manunggaling Kawula Gusti’, an old Javanese philosophy meaning ‘Becoming One’. I think both these philosophies are close to EWF’s theme ‘Hope in The Dark’, and they are so close to my heart. This is one of my ways to ignite the light within all my dreams. I will be glad to read it in my special traditional Javanese accent, and hope it will be worthy of EWF’s Opening Night.

For Stories from the Archipelago, I would like to share about my experience as a writer who lives at the intersection of many worlds. I am a Moslem, and in particular a ‘Santri’. I began studying in a Pesantren (traditional Islamic boarding school) when I was very young, and am now a voluntary teacher in a Pesantren too. I am very traditional. I can say that I am a full Javanese girl, but I am also a physicist. I took astrophysics in my Bachelor and medical physics in my Master degree. I spend most of my time being a writer and a reader. I see writing as my spiritual journey, and I write a lot about spirituality (not religion!), science and locality, based on my backgrounds.

What are you most looking forward to about participating in the Emerging Writers’ Festival?

This is my first experience to fly outside Southeast Asia. First experiences are never ordinary. I will fly to Melbourne, in the land of plenty for real! It is a dream! I am praying it will lead to more luckiness!

I will take this challenging opportunity to learn as much as I can, and to gain as many inspirations as I can. UWRF was an amazing experience which connected me to over 170 writers around the world, and now EWR is even bigger because it will host more than 280 writers. I hope I can make friends and network with them. Also, I want to gain experience in using English professionally.

What was your most rewarding experience at UWRF16?

Being selected for the group of 16 Emerging Writers from 894 writers from across Indonesia made me feel like Po in Kung Fu Panda. I never thought I was worth it! Since being selected as an UWRF16 Emerging Writer, many writers have asked me for my testimony for their writing! From that experience, I met 15 emerging writers who became like family.

“UWRF was like the first link in my international writing journey. It makes me feel like I am a true international author.”

Personally, UWRF was like the first link in my international writing journey. It makes me feel like I am a true international author. I made friends with many international writers when in Ubud and still keep in touch with them. From my experience of being a speaker at UWRF16, I gained the confidence to speak at an international conference in Kuala Lumpur. From UWRF16, I got the chance to be a speaker at EWF in Melbourne. UWRF16 also led me to receive a scholarship from the Indonesian Ministry of Education for the two-month Writers Residence Program in Australia.

My most rewarding experience at UWRF16 was that I saw real diversity and unity. I saw everyone respect me as who I am, whatever my appearance. All people I met were friendly and very helpful. I really saw Tat Tvam Asi in front of my eyes. We forgot our backgrounds, our citizenship, our race, our religion. We were all same. That was so touching whenever a foreigner helped me and was kind when they discussed anything with me.

I thought I was a host in this country, but in fact, many foreigners acted like they were my hosts. Even when I was lost in the middle of the rice field behind my hotel. The most impressive experience was meeting Arnold Zable, the first Jewish person I have ever met. He is one of the most humble and kindhearted international public figures I have ever known. He always supports me with all of my progress. I hope I can meet him again and again.

Would you like to help an aspiring young Indonesian to tell their story to the world? We are currently inviting supporters of literature and the arts to assist with the delivery of our Emerging Writers Anthology Series, a core part of the not-for-profit Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati’s mission to shine a spotlight on Indonesian voices.