Note from BW of Brazil: The invisibility of Afro-Brazilian authors, subjects, themes, and protagonists is no secret. Go to any bookstore throughout Brazil, small and independent or large chain stores, and you’ll come to the conclusion that the lives of Afro-Brazilians simply don’t matter, or at least matter enough to take up space on bookshelves. Exclude the few books you’ll find on futebol and musical stars and the black presence is almost null and void. For this reason, when people decide to release books independently, dedicate YouTube channels to reviewing books by black authors, open bookstores specializing in Black Literature or black authors are featured at book festivals, it is important to shine the spotlight on them. Black writers DO exist and deserve to have their work read, debated and critiqued. Writer Jarid Arraes is a woman whose work has been featured in a number of previous posts here at BW of Brazil, so it is great to hear about the great success she has recently attained with her latest release! One need only look at the photo of customers waiting at the bookstore to get the idea that there is a black public that is starving for representation in the literature department! Congratulations Jarid!
When an independent black writer is a record-breaking
By Ana Squilanti
It was after 11pm. Almost all the lights in the Frei Caneca shopping mall were out. Stores closed. Except for one, on the top floor: Blooks Bookstore. The line that formed in the early evening to receive autographs remained firm and strong. The last readers stepped away after having their books signed.
Exhausted and accomplished, the writer Jarid Arraes, the illustrator Gabriela Pires, and the publisher Lizandra Magon, from the Pólen Livros publishing house, were then able to celebrate the success of the release of Heroínas Negras Brasileiras em 15 Cordéis (Black Brazilian Heroines in 15 Cordéis) (see note one) on Thursday, June 1st.
The book was the publisher’s biggest release. It also holds Blooks sales record this year, and one of the biggest in its history. Two hundred and thirty books were sold, according to Paulo Costa, the bookstore’s supervisor.
In Brazil, where 72%* of the published authors are men, white, and from the Rio-São Paulo axis; where the female characters are a minority; where the black protagonism is reduced to poor figures, crooks, and domestics, that are perhaps murdered; a black woman from Ceará publishing a book about black women who have marked our history is more than a success. It is a political movement, according to Lizandra. It shows that society is more critical, valuing new debates, and that the changes of inclusion that have occurred in recent years are irreversible. “You will not be able to take the leading role from anyone who has realized they have importance,” she said.
From the heroines of yesterday to those of tomorrow
Men, mostly whites, have always been reported as great pioneers, writers, leaders. And they were, in fact. But they were not the only ones. When history exalts the conquest of these, and doesn’t count that of other protagonists, it condemns them to oblivion. To being erased. “Why don’t we grow up also hearing about the feats of black women? It’s as if they have never contributed to society,” Jarid says. These stories need to be told.
The book biographs women from different times and struggles. Women who struggled for freedom, visibility, expression. Quilombola leaders, such as Tereza de Benguela, the queen who for two decades commanded the Quilombo of Guaritere, in the state of Mato Grosso; Antonieta de Barros, the first black woman state deputy of the country, for Santa Catarina, and pioneer in the fight against racism and machismo; and Tia Ciata, a Bahian woman based in Rio, mãe-de-santo (holy mother of Afro-Brazilian religion), a quituteira (sweets vendor) and an essential figure in the consolidation of samba, have their heroic stories told. Heroic.
For Jarid, a heroine (or hero) is someone who finds herself in a situation of adversity, and even without knowing the strength or resources to fight against something, faces it. We recognize a heroine for the humanity she has. This generates representativeness. Inspiration. “That’s why these Heroínas Negras (Black Heroines) fit that term so well. Imagine, slaves who fought against a whole country and system, against the constant hunger and threat of torture and death, and even still, they left that legacy that we take today to continue this struggle,” she said.
The writer believes that good heroines can make us feel like little heroines as well. That is why she dedicates the collection to the heroines of the present. Because right now we are writing the story that will be told in a few decades and centuries. And we do it because we know it is possible, because we have seen the heroines of the past do it.
Visibility, representativeness and identification
Lizandra says that in the main line of Pollen adult books, most authors are women. She longs for the day when she will no longer have to publish books like this one, because the subject will be so recurrent that it will not be necessary to indicate that questions are coming up, and are necessary. Meanwhile, strengthening and opening discussions is necessary. The publisher wants to be a stimulus for reflection and thought. The more space for minorities to position themselves, the better.
For Jarid, representativeness is what makes the majority of the public on the night at Blooks be formed by black women. It is the same motive that makes her see the writers Carolina Maria de Jesus and Maria Firmina dos Reis as mentors. It is someone like them who are there, and who serve as mirrors. “I hope these women feel that every step I take is a collective step,” she said.
The cordelista (see note one) believes that the Heroínas can also benefit white people. In addition to the fight against entrenched and veiled racism, there is the possibility of identification with different people of different trajectories; the chance to connect with these stories and find in these heroines an inspiration of courage, collectivity, and resilience.
It’s worth being independent
When entering large bookstores, we come across foreign works, with proposals and profiles of similar characters, told in distant countries. “People feel a need to escape from the mesmice (repetition) of the editorial market, which does not seem to understand that literature and creativity imply diversity, and that generates interest,” Jarid said.
During the release, people strolling through the mall entered the bookstore to understand what was happening there. Unlike most of the audience, they didn’t know her work. And they didn’t spare praise. The writer thought it was beautiful, symbolic. It shows that it is possible to break the barriers of niches, yes, if what one writes is true.
At the head of Pollen for three years, Lizandra reports the difficulty of standing out in the publishing market being independent, and the importance of the union of small publishers. The competition with the big ones, that has a budget for disclosure and advertisement, and pay for the exhibition of its books in strategic places in the bookstores, sometimes ends up being disloyal.
Books of the highest quality end up lacking the recognition they deserve because they compete with the sales of the bestsellers, that have major visibility.
Blooks is one of the bookstores that support independent authors, events and conversation circles of sociocultural interest. Supervisor Paulo reports that it is important to bring this kind of information and culture to people, because there is a great demand. There is a mass that consumes, but it’s not found everywhere. It is gratifying for them to be that vehicle.
With the success of the last release, Lizandra hopes to gain even more space. “Working with independent publishers is sometimes a matter of existence. We want to occupy ourselves with books of the world that we want to inconvenience and change, there are causes and purposes behind them, but we also want a return. We want and strive for authors to survive [financially] from their writing,” she said.
* Data from the study “A personagem do romance brasileiro contemporâneo: 1990–2004” (The character of the contemporary Brazilian novel: 1990-2004), by Regina Dalcastagnè.
Source: Fale com elas e sobre elas
1. A cordelista is a person who does Cordel literature (from the Portuguese term, literatura de cordel, literally “string literature”), which are popular and inexpensively printed booklets or pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and songs, which are produced and sold in fairs and by street vendors in Brazil, principally in the Northeast. They are so named because they are hung from strings in order to display them to potential clients. Source