Note from BW of Brazil: Over the course of this blog’s existence, we have documented and demonstrated how Brazil consistently makes its black population invisible in various realms of society. Perhaps the only two areas in which Brazilians of visible African ancestry are allowed recognition and the opportunity to shine in the mainstream media is in the nation’s most popular sport, futebol, and the culture and style of the most Brazilian of all musical rhythms, the samba. Save these areas, Afro-Brazilians are basically rendered non-existent or the element of society that is to be avoided. Of course they may be featured on novelas (soap operas) typically as slaves, crooks, maids and persons who generally serve white people, but as we’ve argued in past posts, such representations are perhaps worse than complete invisibility because of the media’s power to naturalize certain beliefs about society.
One of the areas in which Afro-Brazilians are made most invisible is in the realm of literature. We were reminded of this once again a few weeks when one of Brazil’s most important literary festivals was a near complete blackout. As author Ana Maria Gonçalves reminded us once again, “Brazilian art still doesn’t know how to deal with black people.” Go to any Brazilian bookstore and one will have difficulty finding fictional or non-fictional books by black Brazilian authors or featuring Afro-Brazilians as the main characters in novels. And the excuse of there not being any Afro-Brazilian writers simply doesn’t fly as today’s post demonstrates. To remedy this problem, some Afro-Brazilians have created publishing companies that make this underappreciated literature available to the public. Of course these companies cannot compete with the big publishing houses that dominate the Brazilian book market, but similar to others finding creative ways to fill the void of representation in theater, television and print media, Afro-Brazilian writers are taking steps to let the worold know that they exist!
Below are a number of black women writers who are bringing the Afro-Brazilian experience to the world of literature. Some are relatively new to the game and some are seasoned veterans. If you read Portuguese or are interested in learning the language through the vision of black writers, check some of these ladies out!
15 black women authors of Brazilian Literature
How many Brazilian black women authors have you’ve ever read?
I bet not many, but they exist! And they are feminists, mothers, from the periphery, workers and researchers who know how to put into words the point of view of the black woman who feels everything in her skin. They deal with various topics in an exciting way, but unfortunately are poorly disseminated and published – it’s almost impossible to find their works in bookstores.
We talked with Bianca Gonçalves, USP (University of São Paulo) researcher and creator of the project Leia Mulheres Negras (Read Black Women), and together, we selected 15 black Brazilian women writers you need to know. After all, as Alzira Rufino would say: the possible, we are doing now; the impossible takes a little longer!
Maria Firmina dos Reis
No more, no less than the first female Brazilian novelist. Maria Firmina was born in Maranhão in 1825. Over her 92 years of life, she had several publications, the first was the novel Úrsula, one of the earliest writings produced by a woman in Brazil. During the abolitionist campaign, the book A Escrava (The Slave) reinforced the anti-slavery stance of Maria, who is the composer of the anthem of the abolition of slavery. Founder of the first free and mixed school of the state, the writer always fought for education, racial and gender equality.
When asked about the reason for writing, Carolina said, “When I had nothing to eat, instead of cursing I would write. There are people who, when they are nervous, curse or think of death as a solution. I would write my diary.” The resident of the old favela (slum) Canindé, of north zone São Paulo, she worked as a scrap paper collector and recorded her daily life in old pages found in the trash. The writer was discovered by a journalist, and then had her book Quarto de Despejo – Diário de uma favelada, dealing with the day to day full of discrimination of a black woman, mother, poor and favelada (slum dweller) published. In addition, the book is a reference for Brazilian socio-cultural studies and even though it was published in 1960, tells of a reality which unfortunately is still that of a lot of people.
After these publications, the books Casa de Alvenaria, Pedaços de fome e Provérbios were released. But there are also posthumous works, the latest is 2014’s Onde Estaes Felicidade.
The writer and journalist also strives to give voice to the periphery in the South Zone of São Paulo. Elisandra Souza published the book of poetry Águas da Cabaça in 2012 and has interests in literary magazines and anthologies such as Negrafias and Cadernos Negros (an important publication that has maintained itself for over thirty years divulging names of black literature, well worth knowing). She is editor of Agenda Cultural da Periferia at Ação Educativa and founder of the collective Mjiba (Mjiba means revolutionary woman <3).
The body of Jenyffer’s work is intense and covers those super important and empowering themes that we love: love, identity, negritude, sexism and racism. The Pernambuco native is one more of the black feminist voices screaming out in the periphery through poetry. Some of her poems were published in the book Pretextos de Mulheres Negras (pretexts of black women), a work of poems that included the participation of 22 black women. The author released her first book Terra Fértil (Fertile Land) through the Mjiba collective (the one founded by Elizandra, remember?).
Jarid show her indignation with strong and direct verses through engaged cords. Among over 40 published titles, the most popular, Não Me Chame de Mulata (don’t call me mulata), yielded many discussions on social networks. In her book of short stories As Lendas de Dandara, the cearense (native of the state of Ceará) addresses human trafficking and slavery telling the story of the guerrilla quilombola Dandara dos Palmares (Zumbi’s wife) with a light touch and with a hint of fantasy fiction. The cordelista (1) is committed to human rights projects and has a weekly column in the forum magazine called Questão de Gênero (Gender Issues).
Born in Minas Gerais, Ana Maria Gonçalves was an advertiser in São Paulo, but went to the Island of Itaparica to write her first novel, Ao Lado e à Margem do que Sentes por Mim. The book, written in six months, was published independently. Later, Ana Maria went to live in New Orleans. Her second novel, Um Defeito de Cor, from 2006, won the Casa de las Américas prize in the category of Brazilian Literature, the work is inspired by the (beautiful) history of Luisa Mahin.
A PhD in literature, she published her first poem in 1990 in the thirteenth volume of Cadernos Negros. Since then, she’s published poems and short stories in various anthologies. Conceição was born in a slum in the city of Belo Horizonte and militates in and outside of the academic world. In addition to the recent storybook Olhos d’Água, she wrote the novel Ponciá Vicêncio, published in 2003, Becos da Memória in 2006, and Poemas da Recordação e Outros Movimentos in 2008.
A professional in the field of nursing, she’s engaged in supporting victims of racial, sexual and domestic violence. Alzira was the first black writer to have her statement recorded in the Museu de Literatura Mário de Andrade (Mário de Andrade Museum of Literature) in São Paulo/SP. A pioneer in her region writing for the press from a perspective of gender, race and on violence against women, Alzira is also responsible for the increasing involvement of these issues in the media, in government and in everyday discussions, besides giving political visibility to black women of the Baixada Santista region.
Geni is also part of the team of authors published in Cadernos Negros. In 1979, she released her first book of poems, Terceiro Filho. The Fundação Nestlé (Nestle Foundation) published her volume of stories, Leite do Peito. Her book A Cor da Ternura received the prestigious Jabuti and Adolfo Aisen awards. Born in the state of São Paulo, the writer began her writing career publishing poems in newspapers in the city of Barra Bonita.
Miriam ministered Literatura e Cultura Afro-Brasileira (Afro-Brazilian Literature and Culture) courses at the Portguese School of Middlebury College in 2010, in the United States. She was part of Quilombohoje (São Paulo group of writers), for which she published several texts of prose and poetry. She has the following books of poems published: Momentos de Busca, Estrelas nos Dedos, the play Terramara, essays in Brasilafro Autorrevelado, Bará – na Trilha do Vento and the storybook Mulher Mat(r)iz. In addition, of course, to the poems published in Cadernos Negros and several national and international anthologies.
“Our role is to rescue creatively the vast African heritage. Black culture is much more than capoeira and couscous,” recalls Lia, speaking of the role of escritoras afrodescendentes (writers of African descent). Author of the book Só As Mulheres Sangram (Only Women Bleed) (this you can find in physical and virtual bookstores, Record publisher), she has a degree in economy, tourism, letters, a PhD in Education, is a researcher, artist, director of the Associação de Pesquisa da Cultura Afro-brasileira (Research Association of Afro-Brazilian culture) and militant. Too busy, no?
The author has three works: Não Vou Mais Lavar os Pratos, of poetry; stories in Espelhos, Miradouros, Dialéticas da Percepção; and her latest book of poems published in 2014 Em Só por Hoje Vou Deixar Meu Cabelo em Paz we have engaged poems against racism, from the perspective, above all, of the reconstruction of femininity of the black woman. Much of the poems make of cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) the lyrical starting point for the denouncement, steadying the end of their empowerment,” says Bianca Gonçalves. Cristiane affirms that she writes like a cry for freedom. The Rio native, resident of Brasília is a mother and Director of Cultural Production and management in the Sindicato dos Escritores do Distrito Federal (Union of Writers of the Federal District).
You may also know this writer from her blog. About her book Sobre-viventes! that will be released on May 23, the Minas Gerais native explains “It goes beyond that said with the saying. For me, this is literature. Saying beyond the said. Intentionally hiding in order to reveal. To reveal the concealed. In this game, unraveling the human. But, human is still generic: this book lays bare the survivors and the living.”
Cidinha became a great writer after she began publishing scholarly articles on social and gender relations in the university department of History. It was from there that she developed a keen critical sense of speaking of everyday racism. Her first book Cada Tridente em Seu Lugar, addressed the controversial issue of access and permanence of blacks in universities. The Minas Gerais native has written novels, children’s literature and chronicles.
Writer, journalist and coordinator of the Quilombhoje group, Esmeralda participates in lectures and seminars addressing her experience as a writer. In addition to poems in national and international collections, Malungos e Milongas is a book of short stories published by the author. About how her literary career began, Esmeralda says “death, pain, love and longing were feelings that brought another rhythm to my life; it was in 1978 with the death of my father that I wrote a poem in prose entitled Sábado (Saturday), with this poem I walked by paths until ending up in my literary solitude. My favorite subjects are suspense, magic, surrealism, police.”
Mel Duarte even has to poetry inspired by Jair Bolsonaro. The São Paulo writer is an activist and cultural producer. She recently released the book Negra, Nua e Crua (Black Woman, Nude and Raw). According to Mel, her latest work is compiled from experiences and sensations. “There it’s not only Mel talking. From the reaction I get from other women, I realize that it has a lot of us and that’s what gives me the gas to continue.” In 2013, the poet published the book Fragmentos Dispersos (Dispersed fragments).
Source: Tão Feminino
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