Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

‘Precious’ author Sapphire and Bahian poet Lívia Natália discuss race, feminism and the place of black women in literature


Sapphire (EUA) e Lívia Natália em debate mediado por Mário Mendes

Sapphire and Lívia Natália in a debate mediated by Mário Mendes

Note from BW of Brazil: Over the past several years, another of African-American public figures have been connecting with the Afro-Brazilian community in a number of debates, seminars, expos, award ceremonies, films,etc. Just a few of those names include filmmaker Spike Lee, actress Tichina Arnold, civil rights activists Jesse Jackson, Joe Beasley and Angela Davis, professors Patricia Hill Collins and Carl Hart, just to name a few. Recently, author Sapphire, famous for her novel Precious that became the basis of a hit film some years ago participated in a literary event in which she participated in lecture with Bahia poet Lívia Natália and discussed a number of topics. Below is how the collaboration went down. 

Sapphire and Lívia Natália deal with the place of the words of black women in literature

Courtesy of Jornal do Brasil, Danutta Rodrigues of G1 and Roberto Midlej of Correio 24 Horas

Sapphire (esq.), e a poetisa baiana Lívia Natália (dir.) discutiram o papel das autoras negras

Between prose and poetry is the universality of literature. From the United States, Sapphire, author of  the award-winning novel Precious (released as Preciosa in Brazil). From Bahia, Lívia Natália, a poet who wrote Águas. The meeting between the two took place on Saturday, October 17th in literary table in Flica (Festa Literária Internacional de Cachoeira – Literary Festival of Cachoeira) 2015 that was mediated by journalist Mário Mendes, dealing with the place of black women’s words in literature.

Although resistant to labels, Lívia Natália said that her work transports the place from where she speaks: a woman, northeasterner and black. Sapphire went further: “A white woman, writing about love, is unlikely to have the drama of the many black women who have lost their boyfriends killed by police, just for being black. Who we are and from where we speak interfere with what is written,” she exemplified.

The chat took on feminism and here found a divergence between the authors. For Lívia, the movement in its universality doesn’t protect her, since the effects of sexism on black women are different in some respects from the effects they have on other women. “After all, we are talking about a body that was enslaved. There is no single feminism that accounts for all the women in an equal way. To think like this doesn’t diminish the importance of the movement, to the contrary, it enhances it,” she said.

An activist of the movement since the 80s, Sapphire was emphatic in affirming herself as a feminist. For the American, militancy is important to the extent that even the pro-black movements brought oppression to women. “I think my feminism comes from the demands of my race, there is no other way of being. Because if sexism exists within black militancy, racism also exists within feminist militancy. So my voice as a black woman has to be in these two spaces,” she declared.

Sapphire talked about the popularity that the book Precious earned after becoming a film. “Many people can’t read or write in the United States, so many people identified with the protagonist of the novel. I had control over the film, which began on the independent circuit and then went to the major networks. When it came to larger rooms, I didn’t allow that anything be changed and that’s why the film was a success. It’s that it came in a deep and real way. The story is raw, rude, but shows the true face of the country,” she said.

Lívia Natália criticized the way black authors were presented to the students in the era in which she was a student. “Cruz e Sousa and Lima Barreto were presented as crazy and alcoholics. And our greatest writer, Machado de Assis, was recently represented in a commercial of Caixa Econômica, which is of the state, but didn’t look black. After the Movimentos Negros (black social movements) complained, they changed it,” she said.

Between readings of the poems of the Bahian author, Sapphire was asked about the language used in Precious. The author then explained that I needed to write from the point of view of Precious Jones, an illiterate young woman, raped by her father and pregnant with their second child from this. The reality of the protagonist didn’t allow a flowery language. The rudeness of the words and of the narrative is the world of the protagonist. “I want to show the serious problems that these characters suffered realistically, but never from a victimizing point of view. I don’t pity these characters. I want people to read and admire them, inspire them to overcome the adversities of life,” she said.

Present in the work of the two authors, the gender issue came up. In his new book, The Kid (O Garoto in Brazil), Sapphire tells the story of Abdul, the son of Precious, sexually abused as a child by a priest and with doubts about his sexuality. Lívia, in turn, wrote a collection of homosexual poems as love letters of women to women. “All these issues have to come up for debate and break paradigms: racism, misogyny, HIV, homosexuality. And reach everyone,” said Sapphire.

“Homosexuality was seen as a disease by the end of the twentieth century. For centuries, black people were classified as without souls that can be killed. Unfortunately the police didn’t get it yet, they think still can kill us.” Lívia’s words earned warm applause from the audience. “Women are still seen as inferior. Blacks, women, homosexuals and all minorities should take possession of the word in order that it doesn’t kill them physically and symbolically,” concluded Lívia Natália. Although not considered militant as a writer, Sapphire said that the lives of blacks have been reduced because of racism.

For Livia Natália, Brazilian academic formation rejects the literature of one of the most famous black women writers in history, Carolina Maria de Jesus. Framed as a minor literature, the visceral writing by the author in Quarto de Despejo was underscored by the poet in the debate, strengthening the literary value of the classical writer of black literature.

“There’s an intensity, a construction of a symbolic universe, formal, all mediated by hunger. And she writes in another way because of that hunger. She is a woman who goes from the top of a literary career and died in the same place where she came from, that was the favela (slum).” Complementing the Bahian poet Sapphire highlighted the influence of Carolina Maria de Jesus in her works. “All of Carolina’s books that have been translated into English are part of what I said, I wrote. I studied all this,” she said.

Among other subjects, such as a literary process, poetry, prose, racism, another aspect was addressed by the authors. According to Sapphire, slave literature was the basis of the first books of afro-descendentes (persons of African descent). “Before it was not something very popular. It entered into discussion recently, with the book 12 years a slave (12 anos de escravidão in Brazil). It has a literature outside of literature, which are diaries, letters. You have to get the language of the people themselves, the streets, the afro-descendente woman seeks these letters to create a voice that can be heard,” she explains.

In this context, the Bahian poet defends the power of the word in the hands of “invisible” individuals. “If all minorities take possession of the word, the word is power, I say who I am. I say how I want to be thought of, represented. Writing is saying who I am and how I want to be thought of. We will continue fighting, free and symbolically. Black literature yes,” she said.

At the end of the literary table, the authors went on to the autograph session. Sapphire autographed her new novel The Kid, published by Record, and Lívia Natália his new book Correntezas published by Editora Ogums Toques Negros.

The Government of the State of Bahia presents Flica 2015 and the project is sponsored by Coelba, of Oi (telephone service) and the State Government, through the Fazcultura, Secretaria da Fazenda (Secretariat of the Treasury) and the Secretary of Culture of Bahia and cultural support of Oi Futuro, of the City Hall of Cachoeira, of Sebrae, Odebrecht and Caixa Econômica Federal. An event held by iContent and Cali.

Source: Jornal do Brasil, G1, Correio 24 Horas

2 comments on “‘Precious’ author Sapphire and Bahian poet Lívia Natália discuss race, feminism and the place of black women in literature

  1. Mike
    October 23, 2015

    I’ve NEVER been a fan of Sapphire or her books. It seems like she goes out her way to portray black characters as every negative stereotype she can.

    Can she write ONE book where none of the black characters are on drugs,have HIV,have been raped/sexually abused, are criminals, or are poor?

    • gatasnegrasbrasileiras
      October 23, 2015

      I agree with you! The media, both American and Brazilian, prefer to present black characters in stereotypes and negative portrayals. I didn’t care for the film ‘Precious’ at all and featuring Sapphire here is not an endorsement of her work but rather just a report on the event.

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This entry was posted on October 22, 2015 by in Bahia, black literature and tagged , , .
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