Originally published on November 25, 2011
Republished in recognition of the Month of Black Consciousness
Carolina Maria de Jesus (1915-1977) (1) was a favelada (slum dweller) from the the city of São Paulo that gained fame in the 1960s after the release of her book Quarto de Despejo(translated as Child of the Dark) was released. Quarto would become the only book to be published in English by a favelada.
Born in poverty in the city of Sacramento, in the state of Minas Gerais, she left the city in 1947 and would eventually end up in São Paulo where she found work as a domestic for a very important family. Having never really adapted to life as a domestic, she migrated to a section of São Paulo near the Tietê river where she settled into the favela known as Canindé. At this time she worked as a paper collector which, although a precariousness line of work, somewhat sustained her and her family. Although Jesus had only attained a second grade education, she developed a love for reading and writing which led to the beginning of her documenting the daily cruel realities of life trying to survive in a favela.
Reporter Audálio Dantas was doing a report about life in the favelas when he came across the diary that Carolina was writing. Surprised with the realistic portrayal of the angst of favela life, Dantas took her writngs to an editor where it was released in 1960 under the title of Quarto de Despejo: Diário de uma favelada. The title became an instant success selling out the first order of 30,000 copies within the first week with requests for the book coming in from all over Brazil. The title would eventually be translated into 14 languages and sell over a million copies since its release.
Although Carolina wrote four other books, none were successful. She rose from the favelas and enjoyed a brief period of celebrity with the release of Quarto, but she would ultimately die in poverty in 1977. Today, Quarto de Despejo is still studied and held in high regard by aspiring black Brazilian writers and social scientists and Carolina is regularly celebrated as an important figure in Afro-Brazilian history.
1. Carolina’s year of birth is sometimes listed as 1914 and sometimes as 1915 on March 14th. If she was indeed born of March 14, 1914 this would be that she shares the exact same date of birth as another very important figure in Afro-Brazilian history: activist and civil/human rights leader Abdias do Nascimento.