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Robin Block

Robin Block - foto Esme Hetharia
Robin Block - foto Esme Hetharia

(The Netherlands, 1980) is a poet, musician and performer. Block often writes about the shared history of the Netherlands and Indonesia, about displacement, a migration background, or an upbringing between different families and cultures. As a musician Robin has released several albums of dreamy Indiefolk. Following Bestialen (2005) and the bilingual In Between, Di Antara, in his collection Handleiding voor ontheemden (Manual for the Displaced, 2023) he searches for a new balance between The Netherlands and Indonesia. The collection will be published in Indonesia by February 2024. Together with filmmaker Jeremy Flohr he took part in the video version of Manual for the Displaced. Their short film Jangan Lupa (Never Forget), which features his poetry, won prizes at the Dutch Poetry Film Festival (2021) and the Weimar Poetry Film Festival (2022). He is also a columnist for the Indonesian magazine Moesson.

(WU2024)

Archive available for: Robin Block

  • Writers Unlimited 2024

    Indonesian roots in poetry and music: Ellen Deckwitz and Robin Block

    With: Ellen Deckwitz, Robin Block

    Writers Unlimited International Literature Festival The Hague welcomed you to the Ypenburg Library for a wonderful literary-musical evening focused on a young generation of writers and poets with Indonesian roots. Watch and listen to the stories, poetry and music of Ellen Deckwitz and Robin Block.

    This generation of people with familial roots in the former Dutch East Indies learned the stories of the past from their grandparents and others. Ellen's "steel grandma" -- Grandma Koos -- lived next to the family and told her what she had experienced in the Japanese internment camps from 1942 to 1945. Her book Hogere natuurkunde (Higher Physics) - part story, part poem - is the result of numerous conversations Ellen Deckwitz had in the following years with people whose roots also lie in Indonesia.

    Ellen was joined by her contemporary, the poet, musician and theatre artist Robin Block. His grandparents left Indonesia in 1949. They crossed the ocean to build a new live in The Netherlands, a country of which they were official citizens but where they had never been and which did not receive them with open arms. Block tells their stories in poetry and music. In his recent poetry collection Handleiding voor ontheemden (2023, Manual for the Displaced) Block reflects, while balancing between various cultures and nationalities, his own quest for identity to that of his grandparents. Two worlds come together: stories about the old colony and the discovery of modern-day Indonesia.

    Ellen Deckwitz (1982) has been unstoppable since she made her entrance into the literary world: the past few years have seen the publication of award-winning collections, books on writing (the acclaimed Zo word je een geweldige dichter) and the bestseller Olijven moet je leren lezen. She also presents poetry slams, won countless herself and writes columns in Dutch national newspaper NRC. The poetry collection Hogere natuurkunde is published in 2019 and the omnibus Eerste hulp bij poëzie in 2022. Ellen is a regular guest on radio programmes and reads a Dutch or translated poem in her NPO Luister podcast Poëzie vandaag every working day morning.

    Robin Block (1980) is a poet, musician and performer. Block often writes about the shared history of the Netherlands and Indonesia, about displacement, migration background or an upbringing between different families and cultures. Block has released several albums of dreamy indie folk; the past year he did a musical tour on the Indonesian isle of Java. After Bestialen (2005) and the bilingual In Between, Di Antara, in his collection Handleiding voor ontheemden (2023) he is looking for a new balance between The Netherlands and Indonesia. The translated version of this collection will be published in Indonesia by February 2024. Robin is also a columnist for Dutch magazine Moesson.

    Festival tip: we had two further events with Indonesian roots in store: on Saturday afternoon, 20 January, at Theater aan het Spui: Je bent wat je eet (You Are What You Eat). Together with well-known cookbook authors, indluding Vanja van der Leeden (Indorock and Indostok), we dived into the tasty world of culinary tales. Later that day in the same theatre, during the great festival evening Saturday Night Unlimited: Oude banden, nieuwe verbindingen: Indonesië en Nederland (Old Bonds, New Ties: Indonesia and The Netherlands) with writers Adriaan van Dis, Maddy Stolk, Ellen Deckwitz, Robin Block and Lara Nuberg. How do they see Indonesia, the country of lore with which they've started a new relationship through their books and stories?

    From 18 to 21 January 2024, the festival could be found in theatres, libraries and schools throughout The Hague: from Theater aan het Spui, Filmhuis Den Haag, Koninklijke Schouwburg and Paard to Theater Dakota, the Nieuw Waldeck, Schilderswijk and Ypenburg libraries and Haagse Hogeschool. With over ninety writers, poets and spoken-word artists and musicians from the Netherlands and abroad. With readings, prose, poetry, storytelling, spoken word, author interviews, topical talks, films and music.

  • Writers Unlimited 2024 – Saturday Night Unlimited

    Old Ties, New Connections: A trip via the Indonesian past to the present

    The ties between The Netherlands and Indonesia is a complicated history, and has strongly influenced generations of people with roots in the Dutch Indies. How do writers from generations born in The Netherlands view the land of their (grand)parents? The country they only know from lore, and with which they have built a new relationship of their own? Old Ties, New Connections is about having roots in another country and another time, about displacement and fresh ties to Indonesia.

    Adriaan van Dis' work leads back in part to his Dutch Indies background. His 2023 novel Naar zachtheid en een warm omhelzen (To Tenderness and a Warm Hug), deals with his youth with his grandfather and Ommie, the woman who cared for and brought him up when Van Dis could not go home because his father struggled with the trauma of having been in a internment camp.

    Maddy Stolk wrote in her autofiction novel Soedah, laat maar (Soedah, Never Mind, 2023) about her mothers past in an internment camp and how it affected her whole youth while she empties the house after her mother's death. In this way, she confronts the ghosts of her youth one more time.

    Authors Ellen Deckwitz, Lara Nuberg and Robin Block belong to the third generation of Indonesians in The Netherlands. How do they look at the preceding generations? What is their view of the country where their ancestors were born?

    With a presentation by Adriaan van Dis, Ellen Deckwitz, Lara Nuberg and Robin Block.

  • Jan Brokken en Ellen Deckwitz

    De kampschilders - Ellen Deckwitz in conversation with Jan Brokken

    With: Ellen Deckwitz, Jan Brokken, Robin Block, Shantie Singh

    In his latest book De kampschilders (The Camp Painters, published by Atlas Contact), Jan Brokken weaves together the story of his parents, Han and Olga, with that of prominent artists from Bali, Willem and Maria Hofker, and Rudolf Bonnet, who ended up in the same Japanese internment camps in colonial Dutch East Indies during World War II, alongside Brokken's parents.
    In the midst of the camp's hardships, these artists depicted their fellow prisoners and managed to create beauty in those circumstances. Brokken not only portrays life in the camp but also delves into the pre-war artist community in Bali and explores how the trauma from the camp continued to affect his parents' lives after the war. This impactful book, illustrated with work by Bonnet and the Hofkers, has been well-received and was longlisted for the Libris Geschiedenis Prijs and for the Boekenbon Literatuurprijs.

    Writer and poet Ellen Deckwitz's grandmother, who had Indonesian roots, was also held in Japanese internment camps. Following her grandmother's passing, Deckwitz realized she was the only family member who had learned her life story. Her poetry collection Hogere natuurkunde (Higher Physics, published by Pluim) emerged from conversations with individuals of Indonesian heritage. The collection combines elements of travel narratives, mythology, and testimonies. Deckwitz was awarded the E. du Perron Prize for this work, and it was acclaimed by publications like Trouw, de Standaard, and NRC as the best book of the year.

    Writers Unlimited brought together these two acclaimed Dutch authors for a conversation. They explored the role of art in the history of the Dutch East Indies and discussed what motivated them to transform these historical events into art. They shared their creative processes, offering insights into their journeys through the past. Additionally, both authors read from their impressive works, which are characterized by depth and imagination.

    Poet and musician Robin Block participated in this program with poetic and musical performances. He published Handleiding voor ontheemden (Guide for the Displaced. 2023), a poetic exploration of Block's family roots in Indonesia. His work resides at the intersection of language, music, and performance. Block often writes poetry about the shared history of the Netherlands and Indonesia, as well as themes of displacement and belonging, as experienced by individuals with a colonial family history, a migration background, or an upbringing in diverse families and cultures.

    This Writers Series program was in Dutch.
    After the event: book sale by De Vries Van Stockum, along with an opportunity for book signing.
    Programme presented and curated by Shantie Singh (Writers Unlimited)

    Writers Series: Ellen Deckwitz in conversation with Jan Brokken
    Wednesday, October 11, 2023, 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM Central Library Podium B, Spui 68, 2511 BT The Hague

    Writers Unlimited organises the Writers Unlimited International Literature Festival The Hague every year in January (2024 dates: 18-21 January) and monthly Writers Series programmes throughout the year at various locations in The Hague, including the Central Public Library (Centrale Bibliotheek) The Hague. The festival, featuring more than 100 writers, poets, spoken word artists and musicians from the Netherlands and abroad, will take place over four days at venues including Theater aan het Spui, Filmhuis Den Haag, Paard, Koninklijke Schouwburg, neighbourhood libraries, Hague universities and secondary schools.

  • Winternachten 2022

    ISS Storytelling afternoon

    With: Iman Mersal, Kees Biekart, Lamin Kuyateh, Robin Block

    On 16 June 2022, the International Institute of Social Studies was once again host the International Storytelling Afternoon. During what has become a much-loved classic at Winternachten Festival, visitors, writers, students and teachers told each other stories.

    For this edition, the stories focused around the theme Whose House Is This? Feel free to take "the house" as a metaphor and to explore it from different angles: the house of the family, the house of society, of democracy, of literature... The theme question Whose House is This? called for stories about feeling at home (or not), leaving your home, or finally finding it in an unexpected place.

    Come and listen to stories from all over the world and, if you like, share your own story!
    Maximum 5 minutes and in English only - no other rules.
    On behalf of Winternachten Festival, authors Robin Block and Iman Mersal were present and share their stories too. Kees Biekart was the moderator of the afternoon. Lamin Kuyateh provided musical interludes.

  • Winternachten 2022 – Friday Night Unlimited

    Masculinity in Crisis

    Are there still angry men at this festival!?! - with Jens van Tricht, Raoul de Jong, Linda Duits and Robin Block

    While all kinds of emancipation are taking place at great speed, one group seems to be missing the boat: the white, heterosexual, cisgender man. Until recently, this group was in charge and able to say anything, but now more and more often feels silenced and unheard. And naturally, that leads to anger and sadness. In this panel discussion we addressed the question of why young men more and more frequently find connection in (online) subcultures such as inceldom (involuntary celibacy). In many cases, loneliness and an inflated idea of masculinity play a role.

    Has the emancipation of all non-men (and others) led to a crisis of masculinity? How can we better understand angry men - via empathy? And why, actually, are there so few men on stage at Winternachten? Autor and researcher Linda Duits discussesed this matter with as many as three men at once. While they are not representatives of the angry white hetero male, they are experts in all aspects of masculinity. First of all, there was poet and musician Robin Block, who heads a men's group in his free time and knows all too well how important a "community" of their own is for men. He was joined by Jens van Tricht, author and founder of the men's emancipation platform Emancipator, who can explain in great detail why men need feminism. Author and dancer Raoul de Jong was already the subject of documentary about masculinity in 2005 and brings another perspective: do we even still need to talk about masculinity and femininity as if they were mutually exclusive?

    Together, in this event they opened the discussion on a phenomenon that, as we all know, can elicit a great deal of resistance. But this was an important topic under the banner of the Whose House is This? theme. We need everyone - men, women, and those who don't feel at home in these categories, angry or not - to make up an equitable society. Therefore, it was time to understand and get to know angry men better.

    Dutch spoken.

  • Winternachten 2022 – Friday Night Unlimited

    Whose House is This?

    A literary relay with Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Neske Beks, Aafke Romeijn, Rebecca Solnit (online), Robin Block, Pola Oloixarac et al.

    Whose House is This? is Winternachten 2022's festival theme. In this event, we presented an exciting relay of readings and music, in which our festival authors put their own spin on the theme. Together they breathed new life into the house of family, society and literature.

    All angles of the four-day Winternachten Festival were covered in Whose House is This? during a colourful parade of authors and performers. Various voices gave completely different answers to the great question underlying the festival. We listened to stories about being at home, to critical stories about the institutions to which we are subject, to cozy stories built on a solid foundation, and much more.

    Author and artist Neske Beks got her teeth into our theme (and the question is what was left over); author Pola Oloixarac let us in on the fun of Mona, a parody of the literary world; multitalent Aafke Romeijn treated us to music; and writer and activist Rebecca Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me) came home to us on the podium all the way from the United States.

    English spoken.

  • Winternachten 2022 – Thursday Night Unlimited

    Moving into Space

    Despite their popularity with readers, fantasy and science fiction remain on the margins, even though these imaginative and expressive genres enrich and elevate literature. Usually, little attention is paid to speculative fiction at literary festivals. Time for change! During this Winternachten Festival (theme: Whose House is This?) we not only approached the idea of "house" in a traditional sense, but also made room for stories in which Earth no longer suffices as house or home.

    In today's world, we could easily picture a house, or an inhabitant. We recognized our forms of cohabitation and communication. But how will we live together in 2060? What does a house look like in another dimension, and how would people speak to each other there? And what if Earth no longer provides a "home" - where will we find a new one? And what if someone else is already living there? For Moving into Space, we talked to authors who think outside the borders of our current ideas of what constitutes a house. We celebrated the diversity and creativity of speculative fiction. And in the process we encountered a new world where we can feel at home.

    "Anthropologist of the future" Roanne van Vorst took on the house of the future, while poet and performer Robin Block, a great science-fiction fan, offered an ode to the genre. In his beautiful and poignant work, American author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah reminds us that the future can be a whimsical place. Moving into Space showed why speculative fiction is also eminently political, and why precisely this genre is so important for the future of literature. We explored the present and the past but especially the future - we followed dimensional paths and interplanetary avenues...

    The evening was concluded by the great band N3RDISTAN, known for their mythical electronic tunes, N3rdistan created a compelling poetic fusion that was serene and unsual. We danced into the future!

    English spoken.

    Reading tips to get in the mood (by event authors):

    • Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
    • In Between, Di Antara by Robin Block
    • Met zijn zessen in bed by Roanne van Voorst

    Want to read more? These speculative works inspired our event programmers Fleur Jeras and Nisrine Mbarki:

    • The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories by Amal El-Mothar et al.
    • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
    • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
    • Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
    • Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler
    • Popisho by Leone Ross
  • Winternachten 2020

    VPRO OVT Live

    With: Anneloes Timmerije, Clarice Gargard, Dido Michielsen, Ellen Deckwitz, Jos Palm, Liesbeth Zegveld, Nelleke Noordervliet, Paul van der Gaag, Reggie Baay, Robin Block, Stefan Hertmans

    Every Sunday morning, the topicality of history is the focus of one of the most popular radio programs in the Netherlands. On Sunday morning, 19 January 2020, OVT will be broadcast live from Writers Unlimited festival in Theater aan het Spui. You can listen to and watch discussions, interviews and stories by festival authors and others. Hosts: Paul van der Gaag and Jos Palm. Program in Dutch.

  • Winternachten 2020

    Indonesian Roots in Poetry and Music: Ellen Deckwitz and Robin Block

    With: Ellen Deckwitz, Robin Block

    Tip: Ellen Deckwitz also appears with Robin Block and Adriaan van Dis at Saturday Night Unlimited in Theater aan het Spui. She will perform at the festive Opening Night - A Free Mind on Wednesday, 15 January and at the NRC Live Reading Club, when she will discuss Hella Haasse's novel Oeroeg with Clarice Gargard and the public (Saterday afternoon, 18 January at Theater aan het Spui).

    Winternachten festival once again welcomes you to the Nieuw Waldeck Library for a wonderful literary-musical evening featuring a young generation of writers and poets with Indonesian roots. Come to watch and listen to the stories, poetry and music of Ellen Deckwitz and Robin Block.

    This generation with a family background in the Dutch East Indies sometimes learned the stories of yore from their grandparents. Poet, thespian and performance poet Ellen Deckwitz (37) processed these in her new volume of poetry, Hogere Natuurkunde (Higher Physics). When she was a child, her "grandmother of steel", Grandma Koos, lived next door and told her about her experiences in the Japanese internment camps from 1942 to 1945.

    Deckwitz appears alongside a generational contemporary: poet, musician and theatre maker Robin Block (38). His grandparents fled the Dutch East Indies in 1949. They crossed the ocean to build a new life in the Netherlands, a country of which they were official citizens, but where they had never set foot and which did not provide a warm welcome. Block tells their stories via text and music.

    The Winternachten International Literary Festival The Hague is celebrating its 25th anniversary! From 15 to 19 January 2020 it takes place in theatres, libraries and schools throughout The Hague: at Theater aan het Spui, Filmhuis Den Haag, the Institute of Social Studies, the Zuiderstrand Theatre and Paard, as well as the Dakota Theatre and the Schilderswijk, Ypenburg and Nieuw Waldeck libraries. More than 100 local and international writers, poets and spoken-word artists will appear for recitations, prose, poetry, storytelling, spoken word, author interviews, topical discussions, films and music.

    The jubilee edition of the festival has a special focus on liberation and, more specifically, on the decolonization of Western thought. How free is our mind, what does freedom mean, and are we truly free or caught in the framework of our culture, society and history? This theme connects the festival with its beginnings, when it focused on the relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia, Surinam, the Antilles and South Africa.

  • Winternachten 2020 – Saturday Night Unlimited

    Ellen Deckwitz and Adriaan van Dis: Inheritance

    A discussion about family, inheritance and whether or not it is possible to escape the transferral of history, and thereby your roots, and the good fortune or grief that goes along with them. Led by Fiep van Bodegom, with music and poetry by Robin Block.

    In her new collection Hogere natuurkunde (Advanced Physics), Ellen Deckwitz writes about the war, the Dutch Indies, and consequences thereof in today's Netherlands. The grandmother in the text is her Indonesian oma, who will only tell her story to her granddaughter.

    A major portion of Adrian van Dis' oeuvre addresses Indonesian influences on his family. His first novel, Nathan Sid (1983) and the novels Indische duinen (Indonesian Dunes, 1994), Familieziek (Family Illness, 2002) and Ik kom terug (I'm Coming Back, 2014) are about his mother and his family, and about how family history persists, generation after generation.

    Poet, musician and theatre maker Robin Block follows the path of his grandparents, who had to flee Indonesia in 1949, in the other direction. This is the theme of his solo performance Samudra ("ocean") and the 2019 book he wrote together with Angelina Enny (from Indonesia) In Between, Di Antara.

    Tip: Ellen Deckwitz and Robin Block also appear in the Winternachten program at the Nieuw Waldeck Library on 17 January 2020, as of 20:15h. On Saturday afternoon, 18 January, Deckwitz, together with fellow NRC columnist Clarice Gargard and the audience, discusses the novella Oeroeg (1948) by Hella Haasse. Both events are in Dutch.

  • Winternachten 2020 – Saturday Night Unlimited

    Letters from Overseas

    In 1795, the once-enslaved but later freed Wilhelmina Kelderman sent a heartbreaking letter from Paramaribo to her former master. The letter never arrived, as it was on a ship hijacked by the English, ended up in an archive, and was only opened two centuries later.

    Writers Unlimited festival asked nine authors to write a letter to someone in a (former) colony, inspired by Wilhelmina's entreaty, and to present it at this event. They will recite them in their mother tongue or preferred language of writing; English or Dutch translations will be simultaneously projected.

    Participants are Antjie Krog (South Africa), Alfred Birney, Reggie Baay, Ellen Deckwitz, Rosabelle Illes (Aruba), Jolyn Phillips (South Africa), Jasper Albinus, poet Angelina Enny (Indonesia) and poet, musician and theatre maker Robin Block.

    Tip: Antjie Krog, Reggie Baay, Ellen Deckwitz and Jolyn Phillips will also read from their contributions to the 25th anniversary Winternachten festival anthology during the Opening Night - A Free Mind on Wednesday, 15 January at Theater aan het Spui.

  • Winternachten 2020 – Saturday Night Unlimited

    Indonesia: History is an Always-Broken Promise

    Writers from Indonesia and The Netherlands look at the history and the way former colonizers are viewed now. Chris Keulemans talks with them about how this influences their work and invites them to read from their work.

    Besides being a famous poet, Goenawan Mohamad is also a journalist, essayist, editor and columnist. He contributed to the formation of the Indonesian language, Bahasa Indonesia. He participated in many ways in the struggle against Suharto's regime. In 1995, he was a guest writer at the inaugural Writers Unlimited festival and has returned several times since to The Hague to take part again.

    Angelina Enny is a writer, actor and theatre director. Her story debut, Nokturnal Melankolia, was adapted for the stage. In 2019 she collaborated with Dutch writer and musician Robin Block on a volume of poetry, In Between, Di Antara, in which they explore their personal stories, (family) memories and dreams, as well as their shared (Indonesian) history. Enny says: "For me, historical events consist of personal stories. Stories of people whose chronicles we have forgotten. That is specifically why we need to tell them."

    The grandparents of poet. musician and theatre maker Robin Block fled the Dutch East Indies in 1949. They crossed the ocean to build a new life in the Netherlands, a country of which they were official citizens, but where they had never set foot and which did not provide a warm welcome.

    Tip: Angelina Enny and Goenawan Mohamad read from their own work at Opening Night - A Free Mind on Wednesday, 15 January. Robin Block performs together with poet Ellen Deckwitz in 'Indische roots in poëzie en muziek' in Biblotheek Nieuw Waldeck on Friday evening 17 January.