Sitor Situmorang (2 October 1923 – 21 December 2014) was an Indonesian poet, essayist and writer of short stories. Situmorang was born in Harianboho, North Sumatra, and educated in Jakarta. He worked as a journalist and literary critic in Medan, Yogyakarta and Jakarta for a variety of newspapers and periodicals.
Sitor was considered by Dutch scholar and critic of Indonesian literature A. Teeuw to be Indonesia’s preeminent poet from Angkatan ’45 (The Generation of ’45) after the decease of Chairil Anwar. “His views were deeply influenced by French existentialism of the early fifties, and his poetic forms, as pointed by Subagio, display remarkable similarities with French symbolism (Subagio Sastrowardojo 1976).” Despite the European influence he is still deeply rooted in his Batak culture.
He was born in 1923 in North Tapanuli, North Sumatra and moved to Jakarta to study at AMS. After graduating from AMS, he went to the US to further study cinematography at the University of California (1956–57).
When he grew up, Indonesia was under Dutch rule and a European-style education was provided only for a small minority of the population. Therefore, during high school he studied mostly European literature and Dutch, which he found disturbing and provoked his sense of nationalism. When he was 15, he was inspired to translate “Saijah and Adinda” (a poem), a part of Max Havelaar by Multatuli, from Dutch to Batak which was his mother tongue even though his Dutch was limited for this kind of literature. This was the starting point of his interest in literature. He began reading more and more Indonesian and western literature, and became inspired to work towards becoming a writer.
He started his career as a journalist in North Sumatra at Suara Nasional (1945–1946) and Waspada (1947). He was assigned to Yogyakarta (1947–1948) and later worked for Berita Indonesia and Warta Dunia (1957).
His first poem “Kaliurang” was written in 1948 in the style of Pujangga Baru and published at Siasat, ten years after he translated Saijah dan Adinda by Multatuli. In the same year, he wrote a review of Gema Tanah Air, an anthology compiled by H.B. Jassin.
During 1950 – 1953, he stayed in Amsterdam and Paris to observe European cultures, funded by a scholarship from a Netherlands foundation. His brief stay in Paris influenced some of his works, such as Pertempuran dan Salju di Paris (1956, collection of short stories) and Paris la Nuit (2002, collection of poems).
He published Surat Kertas Hijau (Green Paper Letters) in 1954, a collection of poems, in which he expressed his emotional and intellectual crisis of love and national identity.
This publication established him as a prominent and respected poet.
Since 1950, he was actively involved in cultural polemic, particularly on the shape and direction of Indonesia culture. He was one of African American author Richard Wright‘s contacts and interlocutors during Wright’s trip to Indonesia for the Asian-African Conference in 1955. He became a prominent member of the Institute of National Culture (Lembaga Kebudayaan Nasional /LKN), which was closely tied to Sukarno, the President of Indonesia at the time. In 1967, following the fall of Sukarno in 1965, he was imprisoned and was not released until 1976, without any trial.