In 1995, for the first time, the literary works of contemporary Afro-Brazilian women were compiled to present a comprehensive vision of what it means to be both black and female in Brazil. The anthology, entitled Enfim…Nós: Escritoras negras brasileiras contemporâneas/Finally…Us: Contemporary Black Brazilian Women Writers, presents seventeen women poets, most of whom belong to the Quilhomboje literary movement. With its monthly publication, Cadernos Negros, Quilombhoje inscribes itself into the tradition of Afro-Brazilian cultural production and political resistance, alongside movements such as the Frente Negra Brasileira and the Movimento Negro Unificado*.
|Various volumes of Cadernos Negros|
Though the canon of Brazilian literature is rich in Afro-Brazilian female characters, until recently it has included only a handful of Afro-Brazilian women writers, sprinkled across the centuries. The authors collected in this anthology emerged during a veritable explosion of expression, enhanced by the conjunction of a series of political and social changes.
In August of 2011, a group of black Brazilian women writers came together to participate in the 14th National Seminar and 5th International Seminar of Women and Literature, held at the University of Brasília (UnB) in which more than 800 attendees were registered. Approximately 400 women from all over Brazil occupied the Athos Bulcão Community Center and amphitheaters of Minhocão (the Central Institute of Sciences of Brasília) to hear writers, poets and thinkers in the lectures that marked the beginning of the activities. The debates at the seminars were marked by a feeling that literature is a weapon against gender and color bias that could be used as an instrument of women’s liberation.
Black writers Esmeralda Ribeiro, Lia Vieira, Geni Guimarães, Ana Maria Gonçalves, Miriam Alves, Conceição Evaristo and Cristiane Sobral told their life stories with poems during the second table of the event and spoke of the presence of black women in literature.
According to Lia Vieira, there is a point of intersection between these stories. “Black women’s literature is another chapter in that story,” she said. “It’s a position that balances the structures,” added Geni. Those memories that connect black origins day by day not only serve for lamentations. “Literature is a record of history and these stories should be used by our children and by their children,” she argued.
African women Vera Duarte, Odete Semedo and Sônia Sultuane were also present at the seminar.
Writer Esmeralda Ribeiro cited the case of Cadernos Negros(Black Notebooks), a series of Afro-Brazilian publication known worldwide, but which still has no space in universities. “Therefore, the recognition of our history has a special flavor,” Esmeralda stated.
By analyzing the content of discussions in the seminar, writer Conceição Evaristo, a participant in the conference and an honoree of the event, noted that one of the most important aspects is to give visibility to the black woman. “It’s a different view from that of subservience,” she said. She said that when these women show that they are capable of dealing with literature is “a punch in the stomach” of those who think that literature has an owner.
The involvement of the audience with the debaters was such that at the end of the morning discussions, listeners asked the poet Cristiane Sobral to recite the poem “Não vou mais lavar os pratos (I will not wash the dishes anymore)” that invoked the liberating power of literature, and gives name to the book published by Athalaia Gráfica e Editora.
Ana Maria Gonçalves
“In general, black women are seen in the role of subservience,” said the writer Conceição Evaristo. “People expect black women to cook well, take care of the home well, be a good babysitter, dance and sing. But in certain areas of knowledge, even being present, this image is made very much invisible.”
For Conceição, giving visibility to black women in literature breaks this place of inferiority. “The Brazilian literary canon is marked by a white male presence. When you think of writers, you think of men first, then white women. In last place, you think of black Brazilian women writers,” she said. “Our literature brings up race relations in society. When you are in the fictional field these ailments appear more strongly than in the text of history itself,” she says.
At the opening ceremony, which took place in the hall of the National Theatre Martins Pena, a text was read honoring black women writers. There was also be a presentation of the Senhorinhas Orchestra.
Enfim…Nós: Escritoras negras brasileiras contemporâneas/Finally…Us: Contemporary Black Brazilian Women Writers
This 1995 bilingual collection was breakthrough which finally allowed black Brazilian women writers to speak for themselves. Edited by Miriam Alves and translated by Carolyn Dunham, Enfim/Finally presented black Brazilian women with the opportunity to express themselves far beyond the stereotypical roles that Brazilian society reserved for women of African descent: domestic, cook, nanny, dancer or the sexually available “mulata”.
In her essay, “Beyond Discontent: National and Diasporic Imaginings in Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Women’s Writing”, Alexandra Perisic described how the anthology came together and the objective of the book. Below is an excerpt taken from this essay that can be found in Comparative Literature Studies, Volume 49, Number 2 of 2012.
In 1990, Carolyn Richardson Durham, an American scholar researching the portrayal of Afro-Brazilian women in literature, traveled to São Paulo where she met Miriam Alves, a poet and an activist. At that time, Alves had been compiling an anthology of black women writers that, because of a lack of funds, she was unable to complete. Soon after, they decided to turn this project into a collaborative endeavor and, as a result, published the first anthology of black Brazilian women writers as a bilingual edition in 1994 (all the poems were translated by Richardson Durham).
The collection deals with a great variety of topics, from representations of the black female body and the monotony of everyday life to the Brazilian myth of racial democracy and the imagining of a transnational African diasporic consciousness. In the introduction to the anthology, Alves expresses the generative idea behind the project:
(Portuguese and English)
Enfim…Nósexpõe, sem falsos pudores, intimidades nuas e de sentimentos aguçados em curvas agéis, lânguidas e sensuais. Revolta-se na ação poética, retomando para si a propriedade do corpo, passando a ser sujeito do desejo e prazer, descoisificando-se. A escrita femininina negra com esta atitude, avilta a noção corrente da passividade da mulher negra, chamada de mulata, que é sempre retratada como objeto de prazer, numa prostituição constante e sem outras perspectivas.
Finally…Us exposes naked intimacies and sharp sentiments with agile, languid, and sensual curves, without false modesty. It rebels with its poetic action, reclaiming the ownership of the body, going on to being the subject of desire and pleasure, de-objectifying itself. Black women’s writing with this attitude rejects the common notion of the Black woman’s passivity, of the so-called “mulata” who always is pictured as the object of pleasure in constant prostitution and without any other perspectives.
The poems, she tells us, are straining against a long literary tradition of exoticism whereby the mulata is relegated to a static image underscoring her passivity and sexual availability. As a way of response, in Finally…Us, the categories “black” and “woman” are transformed from vestibular objects into discursive sites open to constant reinterpretation as the poems perform an act of autopoiesis, a writing into being of the “always negated category of the black female citizen.”
Yet, as much as the poems are inevitably concerned with the double bind of invisibility that affects Afro-Brazilian women, they do not limit themselves to the understanding and criticism of a national history and national present but are rather trying to imagine a political consciousness that exceeds national identity and ethnic particularity. In this article, I would like to delineate the ways in which the authors of Finally…Us are constructing a gendered African diasporic consciousness, all the while grounding themselves in the micropolitics of everyday life in Brazil. I argue that in its attempt to transcend national identity, Afro-Brazilian women’s writing can be analyzed within the framework of the black Atlantic, as it falls in line with Paul Gilroy’s rejection of nationalist perspectives as “an adequate means to understand the forms of resistance and accommodation intrinsic to modern black political culture.”
Emfim/Finally is still available online on websites such as amazon.com
* – The Frente Negra Brasileira (Brazilian Black Front) (1931-1937) was a political party and the first major organization that advocated for the rights of black Brazilian citizens. At its height, the FNB boasted a membership of 100,000 with branches throughout Brazil. The organization was disbanded with the rise of a dictatorship in 1937 that outlawed political parties. The Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement) is black Brazil’s contemporary civil/human rights movement and is an umbrella term for hundreds of Afro-Brazilian organizations across the country. The MNU arose in July of 1978 as a means of fighting racism, exclusion, inequality and police brutality that affected the Afro-Brazilian community throughout Brazil.