Eliza Vitri Handayani is an internationally published writer of fiction and nonfiction. She writes in Indonesian and English. Her novel From Now On Everything Will Be Different came out in 2015 (Vagabond Press) and was launched at events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair and Asia-Pacific Writers & Translators Summit.
At the launches in Oslo and Jakarta, Eliza wore a dress that she had designed and made herself from the novel’s proofs. The novel’s launch at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival was cancelled due to police warnings, and Eliza protested by wearing to the festival T-shirts printed with excerpts from her novel.
Eliza is also the founder and director of InterSastra, a platform for literary and artistic exploration and exchange.
In 2018 Eliza initiated and directed House of the Unsilenced, which matches artists, writers, and sexual abuse survivors to tell their stories through art. She is passionate about rebellious women, free expression, and innovative storytelling.
Her short fiction has appeared in The Griffith Review (Aus), Asia Literary Review, Kill Your Darlings (Aus), Exchanges Journal (US), Koran Tempo (Indonesia) and other outlets. She has also contributed articles to various media, such as Index on Censorship (UK), The Jakarta Post, and the feminist magazine Magdalene.
In 2016 Eliza was selected as a Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE) fellow and participated in residencies in China and Australia. Eliza has appeared at festivals such as Melbourne Writers Festival, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Northern Territory Writers Festival, and Makassar International Writers Festival.
Eliza Vitri Handayani has been writing since childhood. When she was 8 years old, she filled a book with short stories that she wrote based on her dreams at night. She, however, almost never had the courage to show her works. As a teenager, Eliza wrote longer fiction and showed it to a few people.
Eliza left home at 14 years old. She enrolled at Taruna Nusantara High School and lived in a dorm. She joined the theater club and directed short plays based on her writing.
Concerned about her future, her father actively prevented Eliza from entering writing contests or sending out her works. Still, Eliza succeeded in winning one when she entered a national screenwriting competition held by the National Film Center in 1999.
The winning manuscript was published periodically in Horison literary magazine (January-September 2000). Eliza then developed it into a novel, which was published in 2003 and became a best seller. In 2004 the novel won the Indonesian Association of Publishers’ Adikarya Award in the young adult category. But not many people knew that the book was censored by editors and publishers who did not want to show teenagers holding hands and kissing, as they felt such actions were against their conservative Islamic values. Eliza felt extremely embarrassed that she wasn’t able to defend her own work. Therefore, and for some other reasons, she distanced herself from the book.
Just before high school graduation, Eliza won a full scholarship as a Freeman Asian Scholar at Wesleyan University, Connecticut, USA. There she read more diverse books and practiced writing in English. Upon her return to Indonesia, she chose to keep living on her own, although it is unusual in Indonesia for unmarried women to live apart from their parents. She found work as an editor at a publishing house in Jakarta.
In 2007 she started a literary translation program at the Jakarta Arts Council and managed it until 2009. She was also an associate editor of Tesamoko, the Indonesian Thesaurus, second edition, from 2010 to 2012.
For a long time Eliza has been concerned about the quality of translated literary books, so much that in 2011 she went to the London Book Fair to pitch the idea of building a literary translation center in Indonesia. She found people who supported this idea, and in 2012 she launched InterSastra, an initiative to improve literary translation in Indonesia.
Nevertheless, Eliza often still feels too afraid to express her thoughts in everyday life. That’s one reason why writing is very important to her. She observed and recorded various experiences in her mind, and then she wrote down her thoughts when she was alone and safe in her room. Slowly Eliza continued to nurture her courage to express herself and send out her works.
She wrote about a young woman and a young man searching for freedom, set in the early years of the Indonesian democracy, in the times when change for the better seemed possible. The female character Julita chose to rebel openly, while the male character Rizky chose to lie and live in hiding.
Eliza wrote about her experiences as a young female writer who was often harassed by more senior peers, and about the prejudice she encountered as a young woman living alone with an active sex life.
She wrote about the confusion and disappointment she felt as she had wanted to grow up strong and independent, but found no role model in her father or her mother. Many mothers think that a good woman should submit to men and suffer in silence, while many fathers see daughters as property to control, or they take advantage of other women who live more freely.
She also wrote about her traumatic experiences such as sexual assault and self-harm, and in 2016 she organized a workshop on writing about traumatic experiences.
After finding someone who understands, loves, and accepts her for who she is, Eliza finally feels ready to let it go and realize the visions that have long been swimming in her mind.
Her novel From Now Everything Will Be Different was published in 2014, was translated into English, launched and exhibited at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015, when Indonesia was the guest of honor. The English version of the novel was published in 2015 and was launched internationally, including at the Asia-Pacific Writers & Translators Summit. At the launch of the novel in Oslo and Jakarta, Eliza wore a paper dress that she’d designed and made herself using the book’s proofs.
The launch of the novel at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival was canceled due to police pressures, and Eliza protested by wearing to the festival T-shirts printed with excerpts from the novel.
Her short works have been published in Indonesian and international media, such as Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings, Asia Literary Review, Koran Tempo, Jakarta Post, Magdalene, Exchanges Journal, Words Without Borders, Inside Indonesia, Index on Censorship, and others.
In 2016 Eliza was selected as a fellow in the Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE) program and participated in residencies in China and Australia. Eliza has appeared in various literary festival, such as Melbourne Writers Festival, Northern Territory Writers Festival, and Makassar International Writers Festival.