Note from BW of Brazil: There are so many areas in which black Brazilians lack opportunities that, as much as this blog as covered the topic, there are still so many areas that I probably haven’t even thought of investigating. The realm of literature is one of the genres that I’ve paid quite a bit of attention to. Without even having researched the topic back in the first decade of the 21st century, I always noticed how it was rare to find books by black Brazilian authors whenever I would go to a major Brazilian book seller or even the hundreds of sebos (used book stores) that I used to frequent on my visits to states such as Bahia, Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In my search for books in the area of the social sciences, I ALWAYS found more books by black Americans either translated into Portuguese or in the original English publication than I would find of black Brazilians themselves. It is perhaps one of the most important genres that contributes to feelings of invisibility among Afro- Brazilians. Black publishing houses are still a relatively new venture in Brazil, but even being small enterprises, they offer a ray of light in a literary realm that has all but “blacked out” Brazilian writers of African descent. Hope to see more publishers take on the challenge of proving that this population writes and also like to read, if they can relate to the subjects and characters.
Blacks as protagonists in literature of a country with a black majority
Publisher Malê gathers black authors to change the reality of the market that portrays them as criminals, servants or slaves, and where only 2.5% of novelists were black until 2014
By André de Oliveira
In mid-2013, Vagner Amaro was stuck in a task of assembling a collection of contemporary literature of black authorship in the library where he worked: he found few and with difficulty in the commercial circuit of bookstores and publishers. After some years, in 2015, he discovered that the author recently awarded with the prestigious Jabuti award for her book of short stories Olhos D’Água, Conceição Evaristo, had a large part of her production off of the shelves and outside of catalogs, when not out of stock and no re-printings. The two events, Amaro already knew, were not mere coincidence, but the reflection of a consolidated market that makes the literary production of black authors invisible. So, shortly afterwards, he founded Malê, a small Rio-based publisher aimed at the publication of literature of black authorship.
With little more than two years and approximately 30 titles, Malê – a name inspired by the revolt of the Malês, an uprising of slaves in the city of Salvador, which happened in 1835 – has achieved a reputation which is proof that the editor was right not only about the invisibility of black authors on the market, but also about the opportunity offered by this gap. Last May 1st, the Mozambican author Dany Wambire participated in the Feira Nacional de Books of Poços de Caldas (National Book Fair of Poços de Caldas), and, at the end of July, the Congolese Alain Mabanckou will participate in Flip 2018 – Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty (International Literary Festival of Paraty) – both published by Malê. “I’m coming from a problem that affected Brazilian literature, but today we have expanded this focus to authors afrodescendentes e africanos (African descendants and Africans), especially those that have not been published here, as is the case of the two,” says Amaro.
“Any action aimed at democratizing the magnification of readers, will have to go through the issue of diversity and representation in literature,” says Amaro. And the lack of representation is not only a feeling, but a measured reality, including numerically. A study coordinated by professor Regina Dalcastagnè, from the University of Brasilia (UNB), for example, shows unquestionable data about the publication of novels in the main publishers in the country. Between 2004 and 2014, only 2.5% of the published authors were not white. In the same time frame, only 6.9% of the characters portrayed in the novels were black, being that only 4.5% were protagonists of the story. And, between 1990 and 2004, the top five occupations of black characters was: criminal, maid, sex professional, and homemaker.
The study coordinated by Dalcastagnè compiles data since 1965 and what one perceives is the continuity, when not worsening, the scenario of homogeneity which also extends to other sectors of society (see tables below). Opposite to the female scenario, in which the number of women authors grew in the last 20 years – despite still being much lower than that of the authors -, the number of escritores negros (black writers) remained virtually the same. According to Dalcastagnè, historically there are a number of issues involved in this disparity, but the permanence of the scenario shows a specificity of the market. “Maybe they won’t be published because they are always seen as a niche literature. Why is the literature of a homem branco, de classe média (middle class white man) considered universal and that of a black woman wouldn’t be?”, says the researcher.
Gender of the authors – Color of the Authors
Study “Characters of Brazilian novels”, conducted by Regina Dalcastagnè
“I’ve heard from many readers of Malê that they only started to enjoy reading when it came in contact with texts of literatura negra (black literature). In a country with such low indices of reading, I wonder how many potential readers are being lost,” says Amaro. For him, although the elements of identification with the literary texts are complex, and a large part of the importance of the literature is precisely the possibility of identifying oneself with stories quite different from ours, it’s not difficult to understand that for a pessoa negra (black person) to read only the fictionalization of the life of pessoas brancas (white people) is something bad. “It’s not only a political issue, but aesthetics. The manipulation of the literary form by different social groups can generate different results. That’s why, also, it’s so important to insert new voices in our literary field,” agrees the researcher Dalcastagnè.
“This is not a call for white writers to write black characters, because it is important to preserve the creative freedom. What is needed is that the possibilities of access to books from black authors is expanded,” argues Amaro. And the access, according to him, passes through different situations: from giving editorial space to an award-winning author, such as Conceição Evaristo, to presence in bookstores, schools or in traditional and specialized media. The homogeneity of the literary world also draws more attention when placed in perspective. Suffice it to say, as Amaro remembers, that the great national author, a canon of Brazilian literature, is Machado de Assis – who until today, has had the color of his skin whitened in representations. At his side, in the passage from the 19th century to the 20th century, there are other figures, more or less remembered, such as Maria Firmina dos Reis, Cruz e Sousa Lima Barreto.
“With rare exceptions, the 20th century was a denial of the literature of black authorship, a reality that only began to change with the movimento negro (black movement) at the end of the 1970s and the publication of Cadernos Negros (Black Notebooks) [an annual publication, launched in 1978, which gathers stories and poems from Afro Brazilian authors], which served as the basis for the Malê,” says Amaro. Now, the launch of the publisher combines with a moment in which the representation is at stake in the literary medium. Dalcastagnè recalls that in spite of her research showing a scenario without many changes, small publishers such as Malê are piercing the blockade of the larger ones. Another example was the programming of the 2017 edition of the Flip, that for the first time, had more female writers than male writers, in addition to a strong presence of black authors – something that reverberated into other literary events in the country.
Growth and sustainability, however, is a permanent issue for Malê and other small publishers – such as São Paulo based Hoo, directed at literature with LGBT themes, Minas Gerais-based Nandyala, of black authors, or even outside of a specific niche, the Rio-based Mórula, who has published fiction and non-fiction. According to Amaro, there is a common difficulty: being small, but being in a market facing the large. “What I am advocating is that distributors, libraries and programs of acquisition of works of the government to consider the specificities of small publishers so that they can compete and remain on the market,” he says. Fundamental to the work, he emphasizes, has been dissemination via social networks, contact with projects of formation of readers, besides, in the specific case of the Malê, a generation of black college graduates and students who have become increasingly concerned with the works of the publisher.
“Divulging a literature that presents subjectivities of black male and female characters is also cause to reflect on the subjectivity of those individuals who make up the majority of the Brazilian population”
“In a time of crisis and attack on culture, what publishers like Malê have done is a true work of resistance,” says Dalcastagnè. For Amaro, the publisher has a defined social function: democratizing literature from the investment in black authors that do not yet have the range of readers that they deserve. “Divulging a literature that presents subjectivities of black male and female characters is also cause to reflect on the subjectivity of those individuals who make up the majority of the Brazilian population (53.6% of the population according to research of the IBGE)”, comments the publisher. And there is a black literature? ” I consider that black literature studied for decades has affirmed what has been denied by the literary system, which is the presence of black authorship and humanity in the representation of black characters, but it is clear that not every black author will do literature associated with these ideas.”
“BOOKS HELP IN INTELLECTUAL SELF-CONFIDENCE OF YOUNG BLACKS,” SAYS PUBLSIHER VAGNER AMARO
In conversation with EL PAÍS (website), Vagner Amaro talks a bit more about literature, affirmative actions, history of public policies directed to the black population and expectations for the Flip, where the author Alain Mabanckou will participate in a table.
What is the importance today of a publisher of literature toward black authorship?
A publisher dedicated exclusively to black authors will collaborate by bringing to the literary repertoire other perspectives and sensitivities. To amplify the plurality in the editorial market, you amplify the interest and the amount of readers and fight the epistemicide, religious racism, the remains of the scientific racism, the making invisible of black intellectuals, as well as collaborating with the intellectual self-confidence of young blacks who have access to our books. It is also important, of course, the dissemination of a discourse, which is not new, but it increasingly gains resonance, the importance of racial equity for the country’s development, that will not move while not advance while not seriously confronting structural racism.
Where do initiatives such as Malê come from?
There is a gradual growth of people involved in black movements, and this is due to the results of public policies, a fruit of historical struggles of the black movement, which were implemented by the federal governments from 2003. Some examples: the foundation of the Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR); the 10.693 Law, which instituted the teaching of Afro-Brazilian history and culture in schools; affirmative actions, such as quotas for universities and the edicts for black creators. Along with this, social networks have enabled discourses in favor of racial equality were more widespread and that people could be more attentive and forthcoming sharing information and experience concerning conditions of blacks in Brazil and in the world.
Are conquests already consolidated?
I understand that although there has been a growth of involvement with the agendas of black movements, this is a fragile change. Public policies depend on implementation, evaluations, reformulations and must not be interrupted. What we have seen emerge, especially after the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, is a dismantling of social policies. If this affects the poor, invariably it will affect blacks, who are the most impacted by the social inequalities. Yes, the growth of racial consciousness of blacks and whites is something conquered and growing. This is the result of the expansion of the vision and once you see something, and that examines a reality, there is way to no longer see it. However, and also because of this, in our current political configuration, the struggle for rights and democracy have become more imperative and urgent.
Finally, how is it for Malê, a small publisher, having the Congolese author Alain Mabanckou confirmed in the official program of Flip?
It’s a celebration. Malê has only two years, so we see it as recognition of our work. When I received the text of the Paula Nogueira, translator of the book Memórias de Porco-Espinh, by Mabanckou, I was totally involved. The book revisits traditional elements of African culture, updating with a very interesting and current style. At the time, I registered the book in the edict of the Escritório do Livro do Instituto Francês (Office of the Book of the French Institute) in Brazil and we contemplated. Mabanckou lived in France for many years, where he is well-known for his literature, and currently minister of Francophone literature classes at the University of California (UCLA).At Flip, we will release a second book, which still doesn’t have its title translated.
Source: EL PAÍS
Great article! I am a Afro Latina aspiring author and love to share the writing experience with other Afro Latinos, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Really good! I think we need a lot more black authors to express how they feel and give wonderful stories of their own.