“We can talk about our affection”: The Cadernos Negros (Black Notebooks) book series has defined the black Brazilian experience for more than 40 years

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Note from BW of Brazil: I’m not sure of exactly when I became aware of the collective of Afro-Brazilian writers known as Quilombhoje, the group responsible for the series of books known as Cadernos Negros (Black Notebooks). But it was most likely in the year 2000 during my introduction to Black History in Brazil and my desire to uncover as much information about these brothers and sisters as I could. Quilombhoje has been releasing their collections of shorts stories and poems since 1978, and although I have never seen any of their more than 40 volumes of the Cadernos Negros series in a major Brazilian bookstore, they continue to pump out literature that aims to fill a void of black writers in the literary arena and put present the soul of Black Brazil in black and white. 

Lançamento do Cadernos Negros 1, na livraria Teixeira, centro de São Paulo, em 1978
Release of Cadernos Negros, Volume 1, in the Teixeira bookstore in downtown São Paulo, 1978. Courtesy of Quilombhoje website

Some of the great names in black Brazilian literature that are or were at one time part of the Quilobhoje collective include people such as Cuti, Miriam Alves, Esmeralda Ribeiro, Márcio Barbosa, Abílio Ferreira, Lia Vieira, Sônia Fátima da Conceição, Fausto Antônio, Éle Semog and still others. Although these names are mostly unknown in major book sellers and publishers, I’ve seen and met some of these writers over the years at book fairs for black authors, releases of their latest edition of the Cadernos Negros series or at the yearly Feira Preta expo in São Paulo. 

Lançamento do CN2. Da esq. para a dir. Neusa, Abelardo, Oswaldo, Colina e Aristides Barbosa
Release of Cadernos Negros, volume 2 in 1979. With writers, from left to right: Neusa, Abelardo, Oswaldo, Colina and Aristides. Courtesy of Quilombhoje website

So, having been in the lit game for over 40 years, why can’t their works be found in major bookstores? Well, it’s the same answer to question of where are the black characters on television, where are the black politicians and the black models on fashion magazines? It ain’t hard to tell but let’s see what a few of them have said about this issue. 

Lançamento do CN26, no Sesc Paulista
Release of Cadernos Negros, Volume 26, in Sesc Paulista in São Paulo. Courtesy of Quilombhoje website

In 1985, Miriam Alves spoke of black poets demanding their rights to publication and circulation and being “literally barred and discriminated against (in bookstores and by publishers) through discourses of poor quality, sub-literature and disinterest of readers.”

In 1985, Jamu Minka in expressing his concern for black representation in Brazilian literature said that: “The representativeness of our literature is small in quantity because it survives with all the limits of marginal creation and without the support of official channels of culture.”

Leitorxs no lançamento do CN16, no Sindicato dos Bancários, em São Paulo
Release of Cadernos Negros, Volume 16, at the Sindicato dos Bancários, em São Paulo. Courtesy of Quilombhoje website

Also in 1984, one of Quilombhoje’s founders, Cuti, revealed that the representativeness of black literature is still extremely scarce because of factors such as the limitation of the means of production of the work, which are still primarily in the hands of whites, to whom black sensibility is considered strange and even offensive. In his view, “our speech through literature offends editors, critics and white readers.”

These comments on the state of black literature in Brazil were made 34-35 years ago, and if you’ve read anything about this issue on this blog, you know that things haven’t changed very much. Afro-Brazilian writers are still routinely ignored in Brazilian book fairs and their writings continue to be, for the most part, disregarded. And this is why black media must create space for this literary collective of black creativity, because although Brazil would have you believe otherwise, black literature matters!

Esmeralda Ribeiro, uma das organizadoras dos Cadernos Negros
Esmeralda Ribeiro, one of the organizers of the Cadernos Negros series.

Cadernos Negros (Black Notebooks): “We can talk about our affection”

By Pedro Borges

Existing on the national scene since 1977, Cadernos Negros, meaning ‘black notebooks’, were the subject of debate during the Festa Literária das Periferias (Literary Festival of Peripheries) (FLUP)

By Pedro Borges

Cadernos Negros continues an annual publication of black women and black men writers since 1977. The series, already translated into English, and present in the list of compulsory readings of the vestibular of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) for the tests of 2012 and 2013, is the oldest and traditional literary work of the black community.

The series was a topic of debate during the Festa Literária das Periferias (Literary Festival of Peripheries) (FLUP), on November 11th, Sunday, at the Biblioteca Parques Estadual, Rio de Janeiro. The dialogue included Esmeralda Ribeiro and Márcio Barbosa, writers and members of Quilombhoje, the group responsible for organizing the collection, and also Selma Maria da Silva, a professor and researcher on  literatura negra (black literature).

Márcio Barbosa, Esmeralda Ribeiro e Cuti Silva
Writers Márcio Barbosa, Esmeralda Ribeiro and Cuti Silva. 2018 marked 40 years of Quilombhoje

The professor believes that Cadernos Negros is a strategy for the struggle of the Afro-Brazilian community, because the writing and afrodescendente (African descendant) organization in a racist society requires high human investment.

“The strength of the Cadernos Negro is in this fact. For us to exist, we need to fight against the very structure of publishers, who never want to publish us. Now maybe they want it because it matters now, but we always had a readership.”

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Márcio Barbosa, a long-time writer and editor of Quilombhoje

Márcio Barbosa believes that the publication is something different in the midst of the national literature for enabling the voz ativa da comunidade negra (active voice of the black community).

“We can place humanity and talk about our affectivity. Black writers may be subject to their own writing and need not be object of others. We black men can also be subjects.”

He also believes that Cadernos Negros are a possibility to renew the names of national literature. The collection, responsible for presenting to the public figures presently consecrated such as Conceição Evaristo, since 2017 has released the work “Jovem Afro” (AfroYouth), with texts of new names of Afro-Brazilian literature.

“Cadernos Negros is even possible to reveal authors, such as Conceição Evaristo herself, who appeared in Cadernos Negros, and reveal young authors. There are many young authors who are interested. That’s pretty cool because there’s a generation coming up and we’re seeing an opportunity for a qualitatively better continuity.”

The history of the collection

The study “Um pouco de História de Cadernos Negros” (A Little History of Black Notebooks) created by Quilombhoje and the researcher Aline Costa, made in homage to the 30 years of the collection, is a rich source on the history of the publication.

The inspiration for the name of the collection came from a fatality, which occurred on February 13, 1977, the death of writer Carolina Maria de Jesus. The name was then a tribute to the writer, one of the most important in Brazilian history.

Cadernos Negros appeared in 1977, created by two figures, the writer and poet Cuti and the activist and poet Hugo Ferreira. The inaugural work, made of 52 pages, was the possibility, as Cuti says, of facing the erasure of the presence of the black as a subject of Brazilian literature.

The work was released at the Zumbi Negro Community Festival (FECONEZU), held in the city of Araraquara in 1978, which brought together about 2,000 people. A few days later, a new release, at Livraria Teixeira, on Marcondes Street, but now for another audience, for the São Paulo elite, and for figures such as Florestan Fernandes.

The first edition, with poems by Celinha, Oswaldo de Camargo, Eduardo de Oliveira and Oliveira, was made by the poet Cuti, who gathered the writings, estimated the value of the publication with a graphic, and put money together with the writers to pay for the printing.

It was he who counted the value of the graphs and endeavored to gather the poets together also in the following publications. Sônia Fátima took care of the financial part of the group, Oswaldo de Camargo edited the texts, and Marinete, aka Nete, helped organize the release events and the search for new readers of the work.

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A few of the books released by Cadernos Negros

The continuity of the publication since then is also the result of a strategy created by Cuti, to put the release of the next collection already in the one that would be published. For him, it was people’s way of making a commitment, and a guarantee of the continuity of the Cadernos Negros.

The meetings for the constitution of Cadernos Negros took place in Cuti’s house, in the neighborhood of Bixiga in São Paulo. It was there that the poets met to discuss the texts that would be published, as well as the work of consecrated authors, in the case of Solano Trindade and Lima Barreto, texts also published in the pages of the Cadernos Negros.

Mesa de debate sobre os Cadernos Negros durante a FLUP
Discussion table on Cadernos Negros during the FLUP (Photo: Francisco Costa)

From these conversations emerged Quilombhoje, a group that had the objective of discussing the presence of the black in Brazilian literature and then the group started to organize and collaborate for the construction of Cadernos Negros.

At the beginning, came the first departure from the group, Hugo Ferreira. He believed in the political potential of Cadernos Negros, and wanted to popularize and democratize poetry as a way of presenting new political tools for the black community.

In the early 1980s, Quilombhoje received new members, important figures for black literature and the continuity of the Cadernos Negros, such as Esmeralda Ribeiro, Márcio Barbosa, Oubí, and Miriam Alves.

The entry of these new members resuscitates the discussion about politics. There was a need to know if Quilombhoje would be a space of literary discussion, or a group of divulgation and political action.

At that moment, the proposal defended by the young people came out victorious, and older members, like Oswaldo de Camargo, distanced himself from the group, which left Cuti in a delicate situation. He was forced to decide between aligning with longtime friends, from the beginning of the publication, or continuing with the young people, very interested in the dissemination of literature.

He opted to stay in the group with the young people.

“It was good because from there the Cadernos Negros evolved, because the teamwork brings much more result”, says Cuti.

From the 1980s onwards, a number of changes occurred in the composition of the Cadernos Negros.

Cuti, due to personal problems, departed from Quilombhoje in 1983, but continues to publish in Cadernos Negros. In 1999, there were new departures and the continuity of the presence of figures like Esmeralda Ribeiro and Márcio Barbosa, the oldest to front the group.

Source: Santos, Daiana Diniz Quebing dos. Identidade e corpo em contos de “Cadernos negros”: a função social da literatura. 2015. Master’s Dissertation in Letters. Universidade Regional Integrada do Alto Uruguai e das Missões, Alma Preta

About Marques Travae 3023 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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