Note from BW of Brazil: The more things change the more thing stay the same. That about sums up what went down at the annual FLIP literary festival. Before getting into this, a little background. FLIP, the International Literary Festival of Paraty, began in 2003 and is put on by the Associação Casa Azul. It takes places every year in the city of Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state. FLIP is considered one of the principle literary festivals in Brazil and South America. First, in dealing with the 2016 edition, what is it that’s the same? Well again, like so many other prestigious events that take place in Brazil, it may as well have been called the White International Literary Festival of Paraty as Afro-Brazilian voices were noticeably absent from participation. Remember when we saw this in the 2013 Brazilian representation in one of Germany’s most prestigious literary events? What has changed, as we’ve pointed out in numerous previous posts, is that these Afro-Brazilian voices are no longer simply accepting this invisibility. In past years, such an event being all white wasn’t questioned and was simply accepted as natural and the way that things are. But as in so many areas of the society, black voices are challenging this exclusion. And as we’ve seen, Brazilian Literature is yet another genre in which one would assume Afro-Brazilians simply don’t exist.
Author criticizes lack of black writers at Flip literary festival: “We’re reading an incomplete nation”
An absence of black writers at the head table of the Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty (Flip or International Literary Festival of Paraty) was cause for criticism of the event in the historic downtown streets of Paraty and also in alternative tables of the event; writer Conceição Evaristo presented her criticisms directly to the festival’s curator, Paulo Werneck, who was in the audience; “If we don’t read all the creative steps of the nation, we are reading a nation in pieces, we are reading an incomplete nation,” said Conceição; Werneck had already commented on the issue and stated that the organization tried to invite black authors and failed to bring them.
By Vinícius Lisboa in collaboration with Nanna Possa
The lack of black writers at the head table of the International Literary Festival of Paraty (Flip) was cause for criticism of the event in the historic downtown streets of Paraty and also in alternative tables in which these authors were present. The festival started on Wednesday (29) and the last tables of debates were held on July 3rd.
In the debate “De onde eu escrevo” (From where I write), sponsored by Itaú Cultural on the first day of the event, writer Conceição Evaristo presented her criticisms directly to the festival’s curator, Paulo Werneck, who was in the audience. Werneck had already commented on the issue and stated that the organization tried to invite black authors and didn’t manage to bring them.
The answer, however, didn’t satisfy the author. “This one of the moments that could be contributing [to give visibility]. To the extent that other forms are not considered, are not read, are not divulged and are not incorporated into the Brazilian literary system, it becomes a gap, because literature has this possibility of reading the nation. If we don’t read all the creative steps of the nation, we are reading a nation in pieces, we are reading an incomplete nation,” she said in an interview to EBC Radio.
The lack of black authors prompted an open letter from the Grupo de Estudos e Pesquisas Intelectuais Negras/UFRJ (Study and Research Group of Black Intellectuals Black of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), which calls the festival the “Arraiá da Branquidade” (Festival of Whiteness) and considers that Flip’s position naturalizes racism.
“The non-seeking of plans a, b, c on these supposed refusals are related to the lack of political commitment of Flip with multiple national and international literary voices,” says an excerpt from the open letter, which further states “in a country of a black majority and of women, therefore a majority of black women it’s absurd that the main literary event in the country solemnly ignores the literary production of black women as Carmen Faustino, Cidinha da Silva, Elizandra Souza, Jarid Arraes, Jennifer Nascimento, Lívia Natália and many others.”
The actor and writer Lázaro Ramos, who attended Flipinha – programming intended for children’s literature – argued that we must not be silent on the absence of blacks in all areas of society.
“First, [it’s necessary] to talk about this subject,” he said. “I think we have to really complain about it and learn to also appreciate. Sometimes we speak of the insertion of the black as if it were a question of reparation. I invert this a little: It’s a question of knowing the value that this has, of the pleasure that they can provide us and the quality of these professionals, which is great and that also needs to have space.”
Throughout the event, alternative tables debated the topic, which was again commented on in the Flip conference closing. The curator argued that the fair has diversity and noted that the small number of women in other editions was also a motive of questions and grew from the debate, “which opened his eyes to certain obstacles” that prevented more authors to participate in the event.
“I didn’t know how it was, why an author refuses an invitation. There are many reasons and some can be circumvented,” said the curator, who admitted that it’s necessary to know more authors. “I won’t get tired of saying it: there’s has no other escape but to dialogue and know more (male) authors and (female) authors,” said he, who mentioned black guests who participated in other editions.
Werneck also said that the organization of the Flip is in a movement of dialogue. The curator said that the intention of the event was to make a table of a meeting with (singer) Elza Soares, to highlight the black singer, but the invitation was declined. The rapper Mano Brown had also refused participation, according to Flip. “There were plans that didn’t materialize.”
Writers dialogue with the curator of Flip at the “From Where I Write” table
Besides honoring the poet Ana Cristina Cesar and having 17 women among the 39 writers of the programming, this year’s Flip was widely criticized for not having black names among the guests. And this question was one of the most talked about points at the table “De onde escrevo” (From where I write), which inaugurated Espaço Itaú Cultural de Literatura (Itaú Cultural Space of Literature), mediated by MC, writer and actress Roberta Estrela D’Alva, with the participation of the authors Ana Maria Gonçalves, Andréa Del Fuego, Conceição Evaristo e Maria Valéria Rezende. Curator of the space, Claudinei Ferreira opened the debate, which lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes: “You didn’t come to hear a white man, fan of Corinthians (futebol team), from East Zone São Paulo.”
And the strength of the female voice could be heard from the opening of the conversation when Roberta said “this is the time of women, of debate about feminism and racism.” First to speak, Conceição explained the origin of her writing.
“I write in honor of other black writers who are not at Flip, on the condition of being a black woman of the working classes of the country,” she told the audience, mostly made up of women.
Ana Maria Gonçalves, winner of the Casa de las Américas Award for Um defeito de cor (A defect of color) (2006) warned about the importance of a stance of struggle to be treated as equal.
“I do engaged literature on politics and gender. It is very difficult for us to be respected as authors. We have to fight for our space, to leave from this place of exotic character. We need to show our quality, another point of view. I still have the utopian vision of art as an instrument of change in society. It’s necessary to abandon obsolete models and structures, such as our politics.”
The fire began to heat up when Andréa Del Fuego took the floor: “First, eternally, out with (interim President Michel) Temer”, to public applause. Asked about the open letter of the Grupo de Estudo e Pesquisa Intelectual Negra Black Intellectual Study and Research Group) of UFRJ, who called Flip 2016 a “Arraiá da Branquidade” (Whiteness), the authors were blunt in their aversion to lack of black writers in the official program.
“In 2008, in Germany, the then Minister of Culture Marta Suplicy, commenting on the low number of blacks in Brazil’s entourage, responded to a German reporter that there were no black Brazilians writers at the height of that international event. This year, in Paris, the Brazilian delegation of 42 people, had only three blacks. It was the quota to exemplify Brazilian diversity. In April, they contacted me because I might be nominated to participate in Flip. No one from the organization called me,” she said.
The writer also mentioned the information of the invitation made to (singer) Elza Soares to participate in this edition.
“She is an amazing woman with a hard life story. But the black singer and athlete is commonplace. We want to see blacks accepted as intellectuals, professors or writers. To call a black person also doesn’t represent all our diversity. We are many. I repeat what I say in Paris: if it were a gastronomic festival, with Bahian food, or Carnival, this city would be enegrecida (blackened) with black people. A recreational citizenship doesn’t concern us. Our absence represents all modes of relations in Brazilian society. What racial democracy is this in which we live?”, she vented.
Seeking dialogue, curator Werneck asked those present if there was any bridge, some way to make this black and female literature, as well known by them to circulate and thus help enrich the festival.
“A shame I wasn’t pestered, despite my name having been suggested to the organization,” said Conceição. “I would feel very happy to participate, not only for me, but by the collective of black women, in which I am included. Perhaps one of the ways you have access to a more diverse group, is starting with the choice of the choice process of the coordination itself. They could invite people who move in other literary circles, that study Afro-Brazilian themes so that this process could start from the curator,” suggested the Minas Gerais author.
Finally, Maria Valéria left a message for the audience:
“Think about the environment, in the universe in which you are inserted. Notice how naturalized some misconceptions are in our head.”