“Writing has been a healing exercise for many black women, especially low-income women”
Looking at a bookcase and seeing names only of white men is no longer common, predictable, normal.
The growing prominence of feminist works on bookstore shelves reflects the struggle especially of black feminism: women who have a lot to say, who write and have always written, but are the least published.
According to a survey of 692 books carried out by a literature research group at the University of Brasília, only 2% of publications by major publishers in Brazil, between 1965 and 2014, are by black authors. As characters, only 6%.
The North American black writer bell hooks points out that the attention to black women by the big publishers, generally led by white men, is due to a specific media interest, something that sounds more fashionable than an editorial policy.
“It is more likely that these black writers, who for some time have been writing unnoticed, who have already found ways to get their foot in the door or managed to open it more, have managed to get in and now find editors for their work”, writes bell hooks in raise your voice, and claims that publishers “are supposedly looking for us because our work is a new commodity.”
Therefore, it is through self-publishing or specialized publishers, who raise a political flag regarding the publication of authors outside the predictable cis-white man, that the real possibilities of raising these voices, previously little or not heard, emerge. Works such as those by Nandyala, Padê and Malê are examples of this in Brazil.
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Afro-indigenous writer and community activist Helena Silvestre autonomously published her second book Notes on hunger, through the publishing label Sarau do Binho, which supports the release of works by authors from the periphery.
The theme of hunger is crossed by the first-person account and the author’s poetic approach, a work dedicated “to all the peoples uprooted from the land, who retake and occupy it, desperately seeking to return to it.”
Silvestre’s work will be translated into Spanish by Argentine independent publisher Mandacaru, headed by four academic women with an anti-racist focus: Brazilian Rafaela Vasconcellos, Michelly Aragão and Bruna Stamato and Argentine Lucía Tennina.
“I am very happy with the translation of Notes on hunger for Spanish, because they are narratives of an experience in Brazil that are not easily found in libraries and bookstores”, says the author.
“These are narratives that, like so many others, are the ones that come from the underground who have built this country. I’m happy to take the discussion about hunger to as many places and people as possible because as long as a single person suffers from hunger, we need to debate, and question the reasons why, in a society of abundance, we still suffer from it.”
translating is political
The young publisher’s bet is to translate works by Portuguese-speaking writers into Spanish and create this Latin American bridge with works by Brazilian women.
However, there are also plans for translations by female writers from Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Portugal. About to complete one year, Mandacaru has five titles, being the Notes on the Hambre the newest release, which arrives this week in bookstores in Argentina.
“There is a lack of a more interesting bibliography, in addition to the classics, such as Clarice Lispector, which is widely published here”, says one of the editors, Bruna Stamato, a Brazilian historian and master’s student in genre at the Universidad Tres de Febrero (Untref), in Buenos Aires.
“We also publish white and cis women, but we focus on decentralizing, even in relation to the regions. With Mandacaru, the idea is to launch mainly black and indigenous authors, and we are in that search”, she says. “It’s a constant exercise to get in touch with another literary world that isn’t so obvious, that isn’t given.”
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The work of specialized publishers is fundamental, not only for the publication of authors “from the margin”, but for the perspective they take as their flagship – as mentioned bell hooks in the aforementioned passage.
In Argentina, Marielle Franco’s master’s thesis was published by the publisher Tinta Limón, which also carries out translation work with a decolonial perspective with some of the titles presented in Brazil by the publisher Elefante.
In this sense, translation is another political choice. “Translating is expensive, and especially expensive for small publishers like us,” says Lucía Tennina, translation coordinator at Mandacaru.
She says that it was from the excellent collaborative work of the translators laboratory at the Federal University of Latin American Integration (Unila) that the publisher made the adaptation to the Castilian river pratense of the eviction room, by Carolina Maria de Jesus.
“The translation they did was a very interesting process, with special attention paid to the diversity of the group of translators, with black women on the team and from different locations”, he points out.
“To adapt to Argentina, we thought together, too, and it’s a very nice game to think the text from colloquial Castilian but also with a complex vocabulary, typical of Carolina”, explains Tennina.
For the edition of Mandacaru, the choice to translate “preta” was to rescue the term prieta, which is rarely used in Spanish, but which maintains the differentiation that Carolina made between the terms “preta” and “negra”.
“Translating is also political, and neutralizing the language is still a colonizing act”, he concludes.
Anti-racist literature in the country of “boats”
Bruna Stamato, who has lived in Argentina for ten years, says that in addition to the difficulty that any non-white person encounters in a college by being “one of the few”, if not the only one, is the impact of the course bibliographies.
“We also have a proposal for academic insertion with the publications”, he says, mentioning a recent approach to Untref, where the book was presented Pain, of Vilma Piedade (Dorority, in Portuguese, published by Editora Nós).
“In practically all universities there is an absence of racial discussion, and this is a reflection of how Argentine society deals with this issue”, emphasizes Stamato. “There is still a common sense that there is no Afro-descendant population in Argentina, or that they would all be migrants. And the university reproduces that.”
Argentina has 12 of its universities listed among the top 100 in Latin America, according to the ranking recently published by the British consultant Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), but it only started counting its Afro-descendant population in 2010.
And there is a debate about racism that is still embryonic and a historical context of the erasure of this population. It is a colonial heritage that is reflected in speeches from everyday life to the progressive presidency.
The publisher’s next release will be by trans author Amaira Moira, in a bid to continue promoting counter-hegemonic readings necessary to break down barriers of language and colonization of thought — and the books we have on our shelves.
Edition: Thales Schmidt