Note from BW of Brazil: The written word is a form of expression that has long been either denied or ignored when the writer is Afro-Brazilian. As we touched upon in a previous post, go to any national or local bookstore throughout Brazil and one will note (or perhaps not note) the absence of black Brazilian writers. Yes, Brazil’s black population is huge, but, as in film, politics, academia and television, they are also nearly invisible in the world of literature. Regardless of the way that the nation has long presented itself as one people, one culture, there are sides of the Brazilian experience that most of the world knows nothing about as the power structure has effectively blockaded the voices of black Brazil as if only whites should representative what it is to be Brazilian.
The images depicted by the great Carolina de Jesus of her everyday experiences in a São Paulo favela slum were so vivid, so powerful that Brazilians were shocked when this poor black woman’s story piqued the interest of the entire world. Carolina’s Quarto de Despejo: diário de uma favelada (1960, translated as Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus in 1962) was translated into several languages and and put the spotlight on a woman and life that most Brazilians would rather not acknowledge even exists.
The book became a sensation selling 10,000 in its first week (a then record in Brazil) (1). But even after reaching at least 22 countries and selling several hundred thousands of copies in its English translation alone (2), and thus showing the potential of Afro-Brazilian writers, today, black Brazilian women are still a rarity in the literary world. But there is hope. Over the past few decades we’ve seen the rise of a small group of black Brazilian writers who have gained quite a following with their work and occasionally we see impressive special features that also highlight this missing black female voice. We hope that over the coming years, more of these women manage to tell their stories, introduce their characters and reveal a slice of Brazil that the country does itself a disservice by ignoring.
The lineage of the Carolinas: a black woman who writes is already a transgressor
By Daniela Luciana
By bringing together (Cuban) Teresa Cárdenas, (Brazilians) Fernanda Felisberto, Yasmin Thayná and Eliane Gonçalves in a table around the theme “Rotas e Roteiros: produção audiovisual e literature” (Routes and Scripts: audiovisual production and literature), we have the opportunity to navigate together by seas and blaze and establish ports so that other women have the opportunity to publish and be read, multiplying our unique voices. To paraphrase the song “baianos do Recôncavo”, sung by Maria Bethânia, this table is an invitation: “I will learn to read in order teach my comrades.”
Writing is not something you choose, it’s a choice which is realized, besides a gift and opportunity. The black woman who writes makes this phrase more complex, because it materializes itself in her public writing – in general – meets a long and painful journey through paths in which there is no incentive, traditionally. The writer and poet Cristiane Sobral, in my personal view, summed up this choice in an already famous and inspirational poem, “Não vou mais lavar os pratos” (I will not wash the dishes).
The Brasilia native inscribes in the work itself our moment of liberation for reading and writing, in this literal phrase that fills itself symbolically throughout the poem. I, black woman, leave the place that they gave me, the caregiver, provider, the being that does, to the place I have chosen, producer of senses, manipulator of aesthetic, sorceress of words.
The exercise of reading, a practice indicated to improve and stimulate writing is not accessible for most black women for several reasons. One of them, well indicated by Sobral, is that we use the time for housework because of an almost universal tradition, our inescapable place for a very long time, and part of an ideology against which we still struggle.
In the case of black women, access to reading is even more complicated, due to economic, cultural and family issues, where reading is a habit still seen as unproductive use of time, superfluous leisure in many places where there is so much to do, as if reading was not an important cause.
We add to this the fact that access to other black writers is also restricted and training can be good, but based on white, male, Western origin. Each black woman who writes does it against a canon established against the expected and transgress, even if she is never published or recognized. Even with her themes are not being of the left or read as libertarian, she transgresses in the act of using her time to create texts when she was part of the majority of illiterate people in colonized countries a few centuries ago.
The emergence of social networks opens up possibilities for more women to write and read daily, access authors and their works in a more economical and capillary model of consumption. In addition to sharing impressions and reflections about what they read, more black people read and write for others to read than ten years ago and this circularity of ideas/themes/reflections bring effects that we can’t measure. In my view it’s a time of reconnection of orality, a virtual drum beat that touches all of us and still surprises.
Breaking with the closed Brazilian publishing market, the elitist form and spaces of literary fairs, the accumulation of roles that requires writers to develop their literary work in parallel with other activities that generate income is the great challenge of today. It is still unsatisfactory for all of us, the number of published writers, the texts available in the market from the members of the lineage of Carolina Maria de Jesus. But, inspired by other trail-blazers of literary seas, we will walk in partition, will not impede ourselves us from being who we are and moving forward.
Daniela Luciana, a member of the Irmandade Pretas Candangas (Sisterhood of Pretas Candangas) and the literary collective Ogum’s Toques, maintains the blog Caleidoscópio Mutante.
Source: Afro Latinas
1. Ebony magazine. “Better to be poor”. December 1966
2. Levine, Robert M. “Afterword: ‘a fish out of water'” in Jesus, Carolina Maria de. I’m Going to Have a Little House: The Second Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus. 1997 University of Nebraska Press.