Female Brazilian Writers Talk About the Difficulties of Publishing in Brazil
Brazilian writer Marie Declercq published an article titled Escritoras brasileiras falam sobre as dificuldades de publicar no país (Female Brazilian Writers Talk About the Difficulties of Publishing in Brazil) in VICE Brasil. Declercq speaks with various female Brazilian writers about barriers encountered during the publishing process in Brazil. Such barriers include racial prejudice, problems with male writer/mentors, and problems with only certain types of writers being considered for Brazil’s most prestigious literary awards. Declercq continues that in Brazil “the discourse of valuing the literary production of women – which is urgent and indispensable – has become somewhat empty, realized only as a theme of literary events or as one or another lecture on ‘machismo in literature’.” The stories below will unfortunately sound and be familiar to many in the United States. Declercq concludes the article by wondering how many potential women and/or people of color (or anyone that identifies as a non-white male) “exist within this Brazilian expanse with good ideas in their head that we will never read?”
Below are translated excerpts edited for clarity from the original article (published in VICE Brasil on Tuesday, April 18, 2017). The article is only available in Portuguese.
Years ago, I showed a story that I had written to an experienced male professor and I heard in response, “You? A writer?” I suspect to this day that he did not even read the pages I gave him. Frustrated, I began to ask women nearby who had this same interest in writing if they ever had similar experiences. Over time, I discovered dozens of women friends who, after similar approaches, gave up on being writers. Thinking about these women, I approached Brazilian women writers who have overcome this barrier of “You? A writer?” wanting to draw out why so many women like me have never stopped writing, even without the support of other people.
There are more than a few barriers to living as a writer in Brazil, considering that it is rare for people to live only from their literary writing. “No one told me ‘you cannot be a writer’, but if I only found books written by men, how could I think differently?” recalls Jarid Arraes, a writer born in Juazeiro do Norte, (in the state of) Ceará, author of more than 60 chapbooks, a book of stories called As Lendas de Dandara (The Legends of Dandara) and creator of the Clube Escrita de Mulheres (Women’s Writer Club) which aims to encourage women’s literary production.
“I had to become an adult and discover feminism, especially black feminism, to understand that this difficulty in finding black women in literature was the responsibility of machismo and racism in the publishing market and literary milieu as a whole,” she says. As a black woman from the Northeast, Arraes represents a kind of profile very little read and published in Brazil, as opposed to the caucasian and urban voices of the RJ-SP (Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo) axis. “To be a writer in Brazil is to fight monsters that have been alive since the time of colonization and who change their clothes to gain a less severe appearance, but remain strong and extremely cynical.”
On relationships with male writer/mentors:
“Two of my first literary ‘interlocutors’, people who understood literature and looked to exchange ideas, treated my texts in a way that I find strange today. I was about 17 years old, had just entered college, they were both older men and edited some things and such. Both told me that the poems were weak and would not develop beyond what they already were (I ended up putting some of the poems from that time in my first book.) One of them said that I should ‘give up poetry, maybe try prose’, even though I made it clear that I loved poetry, and I remember it to this day — both starting using a speech closer to flirting,” says Ana Guadalupe, a poet from the state of Paraná.
Aline Valek, a writer and illustrator born in Governador Valadares (state of Minas Gerais), author of As Águas Vivas Não Sabem de Si (The Living Waters Do Not Know of Si) also went through uncomfortable moments that reveal a certain amateurism and, why not, repression on the part of the male part of the literary market. “I’ve received some criticism (always written by men) that tried to slow down my work, as if I did not know what I was doing, as if I was not yet good enough to dare to write and publish a book. They try to put you back in your place.”
On literary history:
“We may think it is a pity that Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina was not written by women, but there is no way to ‘correct’ history with the equality pen. It is something we can do here only, trying not to fall into Radicalisms,” explains Carol Bensimon a translator and author (from the state of Rio Grande do Sul) of three novels, among them Sinuca embaixo D’água. “In the same way, I find it extremely reductive if women writers decide to go back only to the so-called ‘feminine’ themes, or if the literary system expects them to do so. For me, true equality in literature is freedom to write about what you want, without prior imposition. If a woman wants to write a Western, great.”
Valek also shares the same idea about this so-called “appropriation” of voices in prose. “There are men who write great female characters, and this is nothing more than a writer doing a good job. It deserves recognition. The problem is that women writers, when they write male or female characters of the same quality, do not have the same recognition as their fellow men.”
Read the full article at VICE (in Portuguese).