Note from BW of Brazil: I’ve written this numerous times in past posts. If you’re a person who is into Brazil, have perhaps visited the country a few times, speak/understand Portuguese and would like to lean more about black Brazil in the words of black Brazilian authors, you may difficulty finding these voices. This is not to say that Afro-Brazilian authors don’t exist. Far from it. There are numerous Brazilian authors of African ancestry, youre just not going to find much of their work in the country’s top book sellers. This invisibility of black authors has been yet another area that the black community has been speaking out against, particularly in the last decade.
Brazil is NOT a European country, but go to any Livraria Cultura or Saraiva bookstore and the that’s the conclusion you would come to. But black Brazilian literature is alive and well. In past material, I’ve informed my readers about the black literary collective Quilombhoje, which has existed for 40 years. Then there’s the Pretaria book seller, the Malê book publisher, and the Mazza Edições publishing house, all dedicated black authors or book titles that deal with racial issues. In addition, there are also a number of yearly black expos that also feature the works of Afro-Brazilian authors.
The recent 2019 edition of the FLIP literary festival, one of Brazil’s most important, featured more black authors, both Brazilian and foreign, than previous editions. With a black population that is increasingly criticizing out the invisibility of black authors at book festivals (see here, here and here), it seems that FLIP could no longer ignore this outcry.
A few years ago, historian Giovana Xavier was instrumental in releasing a catalog that featured the works of nearly 200 black women professionals and authors at this same FLIP festival. After participating in this year’s FLIP event, Xavier sees improvement, but also sees much room for improvement. Check out a recent interview below.
Giovana Xavier: “Editorial market discovered that black women sell”
Historian praises greater presence of black authors at Flip, though audiences are still “essentially white”
By Ruan de Sousa Gabriel
In 2016, historian Giovana Xavier, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and creator of the Black Intellectual Studies and Research Group, accused the International Literary Festival of Paraty (Flip) of “arraiá da branquitude.” (festival of whiteness) That year, there was not a single black writer among the 39 guest authors of the festival. An open letter signed by Xavier read that Flip was not so cosmopolitan and lacked political commitment.
On Saturday, July 13th, at the Casa Poética Negras in Flip’s parallel programming, Xavier released her book Você pode substituir Mulheres Negras como objeto de estudo por Mulheres Negras contando sua própria história (You Can Replace Black Women as an Object of Study by Black Women Telling Their Own Story) (Malê). In the book’s 33 essays, she talks about surfing, rap, literature, theater, orixás..Flip. A few hours before the release, at a cafe in Paraty, Xavier talked to ÉPOCA about the presence of black men and black women at Flip, academia and the publishing market.
Three years after you denounced Flip’s “festival of whiteness,” what has changed?
There were undeniable changes. When you enter Livraria da Travessa, the biggest of the festival, you see that the first two bookshelves are dedicated to black authors. This is revolutionary in a country forged at the expense of black slave labor. We managed to move beyond that “only” thing: “Oh, the only black author,” “Ah, the only exception.” But Flip’s audience is still essentially white, which shows how much we still have to work. On Friday the 12th, I attended a Jarid Arraes table with Conceição Evaristo and some 95% of the people were white. But they were white people interested in the thought of black women. We managed to win ears, because a voice we’ve always had.
Of the 33 guest authors of this Flip, there are eight blacks: five women and three men. What still needs to change?
This number is still not representative. In an ideal scenario, with which we never work, the representation of black and white authors should be parity, because 54% of Brazilians are black. If it is not so, we must ask questions: do we have black men authors and black women authors? If we don’t, why don’t we? If so, why aren’t they here? And if they are, who are they? In the history of Brazil, there are many advances that coexist with permanencies. As for Flip, now the question is another: it is past time to talk about the curatorship of black people. Conceição Evaristo spoke on this yesterday. We are tied to the issue of authorship, which is fundamental, but we need to occupy these spaces to think and put into practice the Flip that we want.
Is the publishing market more open to black authors?
It took time, but the publishing market discovered that black women sell. At the same time, this still happens within the frameworks of structural racism, because you create a group of exceptional, brilliant authors that you can count on the fingers of one hand. We need to think about editorial standards that contemplate and represent the diversity of blackness. I have students at UFRJ who write crazy, have notebooks and notebooks filled and don’t know what to do with them. How do you publish these voices and get out of this canon of exceptions? The dispute today is to create a sense of blackness that fits within the history of Brazil. There is a parallel between “black literature” and “Brazilian literature”.
Who are your black intellectual references?
This question is a thermometer of the revolutionary impact of our work. Usually, when we are interviewed, we are asked about racism and black invisibility at the University. We are never asked “Who do you read?”. This question signals a new standard of thinking in the writing of black women. I have many references. One of them is my grandmother, a semi-literate woman who taught me to read and write with a calligraphy notebook and made me go to school when I didn’t want to. Conceição Evaristo is a fundamental reference. Like Professor Flávio Gomes, a black historian, a student of the quilombos. He was the first black professor I ever had at the university. I dialogue a lot with references that enable our knowledge through orality or music, such as Iasmin Turbininha (funk DJ), DJ Rennan da Penha and MC Carol. My work has a curatorship footprint of thinking within that is not restricted to the academic. The intellectual is not always a middle-aged white man posing in front of a rosewood bookcase. The intellectual also dances 150 BPM, does the quadradinho, surf, reads on the smartphone on the swaying bus.
How do you, a black intellectual, relate to canonical thinking, which is masculine, white, and colonial?
Simone de Beauvoir was a fundamental author in my feminist formation. It dialogues with the black historian Maria Beatriz Nascimento. In my classes, I give a chapter of Simone de Beauvoir and a chapter of Maria Beatriz Nascimento to see what will happen. Many people don’t want to read Gilberto Freyre in protest. But you have to read. And be careful because he is very seductive. It is fundamental to access the way Brazilian social thought is constructed to present other forms of this thought. Our confrontation goes through the study of these fundamental authors. We can discuss the racism, the invisibility and the silencing of the black population in the thought of all of them, but for that, we need to read. The good battle is the confrontation of ideas.
Recently, we have witnessed a movement to rescue the negritude (blackness) of Machado de Assis. How important is this movement?
There are different possibilities of being black in Brazil, it’s not only “I, black woman, resist”. Machado’s story shows that this is not the only possibility and is often not the most strategic. This rescue of Machado’s raízes negras (black roots) shows an increasingly necessary dialogue between academia and the social movement. We need to break away from this idea that academia is the only place that legitimates knowing.