Pramoedya was born in Blora, in the heart of Java, in 1925 as the oldest child in his family. His father was a teacher and his mother was rice seller. He studied in Radio School and then worked as typist for Japan newspaper in Jakarta during Japannese occupation in Indonesia.
After Indonesia independence struggle, he joined military group in Java and often placed in Jakarta. He wrote short story and books during his military carreer, and imprisoned by The Dutch in Jakarta in 1948 and 1949.
In the fifties, he lived in Holland as part of cultural exchange program, and after the returned he joined Lekra, a left wing organisation in Indonesia. His writing style in that perios is shown in his piece, Korupsi, fiction about intrix among officials who are trapped in corruption. This created frictions between him and the government of Soekarno.
He learnt the torture to Indonesian Chinese and he had good relationship with writers in China. He published correspondence with those writers about Chinese Indonesian history, entitled as Hoakiau di Indonesia. He was a criticus who concerned about Java-centric government and other regions interests. In 1960s he was arrested by Soeharto regime for his Chinese communist vision. His books were banned and he was imprisoned without court in Nusakambangan and finally moved to islands on the eastern part of Indonesia.
He was arrested 3 times in the colonial period and once in the Old Order, and during the New Orded he was a political prisoner without court in 13 October 1965-July 1969, July 1969-16 August 1969 in Nusakambangan, August 1969-12 November 1979 in Buru Island, November – 21 December 1979 in Magelang.
He was prohobited to write in Pulau Buru, yer he arranged to write his popular series Bumi Manusia, semi-fiction novel about Indonesia history. The main character is Minke, alow royal Javanese man as reflected by his experience. The first book was read by his fellow prisoner, and the rest were smuggled abroad to be collected by Australian writer and later were published in English and Indonesian.
Pram was released in 21 December 1979 and received not-guilty legal letter and was not involved in the 1965 coup, but still should under house arrest in Jakarta until 1992, and also city arrest and country arrest until 1999 and should report once a day to Kodim Jakarta Timur for 2 years. During that period, he wrote Gadis Pantai, a semi-fiction novel according to his grandmother’s experience. He also wrote Nyanyi Sunyi Seorang Bisu in 1995, a autobiography based on his letters which were not allowed to send and Arus Balik in 1995.
Ketika Pramoedya mendapatkan Ramon Magsasay Award, 1995, diberitakan sebanyak 26 tokoh sastra Indonesia menulis surat ‘protes’ ke yayasan Ramon Magsasay. Mereka tidak setuju, Pramoedya yang dituding sebagai “jubir sekaligus algojo Lekra paling galak, menghantam, menggasak, membantai dan mengganyang” di masa demokrasi terpimpin, tidak pantas diberikan hadiah dan menuntut pencabutan penghargaan yang dianugerahkan kepada Pramoedya.
Yet few days later, Taufik Ismail, revised the news. He said that he did not ask to withdraw the letter only remind people of who Pram was and people did not know Pram’s dark side in the past. He mentioned that Magsasay award was a carelessness. Mochtar Lubis even threatened to return Magsasay Award awarded to him in 1958, if Pram would still be awarded the same award. Lubis said that HB Yasin would also return Magsasay Award, yet HB Yasin said different thing.
In various opinions on Media, artists who felt that they were suppressed by Pram asked him to admit and apology for what he did in the era of Demokrasi Terpimpin, as Pram was accused to suppress artists who disagreed with him.
Pram appraised his writings and speeces in pre 1965 were no more than polemics which could be followed by anyone. He regretted to be involved in various actions too far. He was even malingned when he was accused to burn books. He asked this matter to court if the materials were sufficent. If the materials were insufficient, he asked to bring it to open forum, yet he asked to answer and defend himself.
Since New Order, Pram had not gotten freedom to speak up, he had been attacked openly on newspapers.
Pram had written in numbers of colums and short articled critisized Indonesian government. He wrote Perawan Remaja dalam Cengkeraman Militer, a documentation written in sad style how Javanese women were in Japanese occupation. Those women were transported to Pulau Buru and experienced sexual abuse , and chose to live there instead of returning to Java. Pram made introduction when he was sent to Pulau Buru as political prisoner in 1970s.
Many of his writings touched inter cultural themes, between the Dutch, Javanese royal, Javanese in general and Chinese. His writings were semi autobiography where he describes his experience. He received Ramon Magsasay for Creative Communication Journalism, Literature and Arts in 1995. He was also considered to get Nobel in literature. He won Fukuoka XI Asian Culture Award in 2000 and in 2004 he was awarded Norwegian Authors’ Union Award. He went to north America in 1999 and won an award from Michigan University.
He wrote until he passed away, though he health was deteriorating by his age and smoking habbit. In 12 January 2006, he was ill for 2 weeks in his house in Bojong Gede, Bogor and finally moved to hiospital. Pram was reported to have diabetes, respiratory problem and his heart weakened.
On 6 February 2006, in Taman Ismail Marzuki was held an exhibition of Pram’s works, for his 81st birthday.