Note from BBT: Today’s story is yet another example of something that African-Americans have been accustomed to for years: black publishers and black booksellers. Whenever someone asks me why I became interested in the situation of black folks in Brazil, I also say the same thing. It was because I came across an encyclopedia detailing the experiences of black people, not only in the United States, both around the world. I discovered the Africana encyclopedia after having been doing research on black issues for years. Being African-American, my initial interest was only in reference to the United States. But when I saw Spike Lee’s 1992 film X, about the iconic black leader, Malcolm X, and Malcolm spoke about the assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, I knew it was time to broaden my understanding of the African Diaspora.
In fact, Malcolm X, being a walking encyclopedia himself, had already introduced me to Brazil’s large black population. In a speech, he mentioned how “two-thirds of the people in Brazil are dark-skinned people, the same as you and I. They are people of African origin, African ancestry — African background.” It would be a few years before I really started to explore this question.
But before eventually ‘’discovering’’ Black Brazil, I detoured through the stories of not only Patrice Lumumba, but Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon, Chiek Anta Diop, Amilcar Cabral and several other important black historic figures. The key here is that, my introduction to many of these people was only possible through either bookstores that featured primarily black authors or books written about important black personalities and events in black history.
Until recent times, bookstores that feature numerous titles by or about black Brazilians was a rarity in Brazil. On my first trip to Salvador, Bahia, in the summer of 2000, I came across the Centro de Estudos Afro-Orientais, or The Center of Afro-Oriental Studies in the historic Pelourinho region of downtown. For an African diaspora book junkie like myself, it was a goldmine. In my hometown of Detroit, Michigan, the bookstore/cultural center known as the Shrine of the Black Madonna was that spot. Thus, as I came across the Africana encyclopedia on one of my regular trips to the Shrine, you could say that the Shrine is what led me to Brazil.
Today, with a growing thirst for black studies on black people, demands for black representation and full inclusion of black history in educational institutions, a number of black Brazilians are stepping into the black publishing business. The timing is perfect. For years, I’ve commented on how difficult it is to come across books by and about black Brazilians in major bookstores. I wasn’t imaging this. A recent study found that, not only were just 2.5% of authors published in Brazil non-white, but also that only 6.9% of novels featured black people as the main characters.
Similar to the audiovisual medium where black Brazilians are also rare as protagonists or directors, the underrepresentation of black Brazilians is also starting to slowly change in the world of literature. The way things are going now, I can imagine that it will be necessary open several more black publishing houses as the one discussed in the piece below.
Aziza: a publisher that only publishes black authors created by those who understand the market
Courtesy of Hypeness
Aziza Editora reached the publishing market to make space for black authors and illustrators. Founded by journalist and publisher Luciana Soares da Silva, who has been working with books for more than two decades, the company received a name that means “precious” in Swahili, a Bantu language of the Niger-Congolese family, spoken as a first language on the east coast and on islands on the African continent.
The project was born in late 2019 from Luciana’s perception of how racism and prejudice prevented black writers and illustrators from being recognized. Today, the publisher is a space for black artists to feel free to tell their stories in a dignified way.
“It’s an area that still has a collective consensus that making books is a thing of men, whites, and Europeans. But if it is always the other who tells our stories, we have no diversity and the reality is less faithful. We ended up entering the ‘unique story’, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie well evaluated,” said the editor in an interview with the magazine Conexão Literatura.
It’s Luciana herself who selects the originals chosen for publication. Some of them, she receives in an email dedicated exclusively to receive material from anyone who wishes to be evaluated by the publisher. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aziza’s first launch took place in December 2019, when the collection “Griôs da Tapera”, by writer Sinara Rubia, was published. The author dedicated herself to passing on stories told by griots in four volumes aimed at children. Another work already published is Do Órun ao Áiyé — a criação do mundo, meaning From Órun to Áiyé – the creation of the world, by Waldete Tristão with illustrations by Rodrigo Andrade, about the beginning of the universe from a Yoruba perspective.
For so many years in the publishing market, Luciana was dismayed to realize that, even in almost 20 years, she had never edited or coordinated the production of a black authored book. On the publisher’s blog, she says that she had incredible experiences working with books, but she couldn’t remain inert to the fact that black representation was not in any of them.
“The story of the birth of Aziza Publishing is not the result of heritage inheritance or a gift or dream discovered at a young age. It is the result of an urgency. It’s urgent that black and non-black children and that black and non-black adults have access to the black histories and cultures that form our society, even though many want to erase them. Very rich and complex stories and cultures, which didn’t start with the enslavement of our bodies and are not restricted to that,” she writes.
She notes that, according to a survey published in the book Literatura Brasileira Contemporânea: um território contestado (Contemporary Brazilian Literature: a contested territory), by Regina Dalcastagnè, 93.8% of the authors published at the time of the release, in the country, were white, and 72% were men.
“If this is not complete and revolting nonsense, I don’t know what it is. There is no interest in diversifying the narratives. And, when there are (the remaining 6.2%, destined to all non-whites), a good portion of them seem to have their eye on a niche market, and not on a truly anti-racist and diverse society,” she concludes.