Journey of Resistance and Literary Tactics in the Works of Conceição Evaristo

The second day of the Brazilian Days, 30th September 2016, seminar featured a lecture by Sara Brandelleiro from the University of Leiden, on Brazilian writer and poet Conceição Evaristo.

Born and raised in one of the poorest favelas in Belo Horizonte in 1946, Evaristo nevertheless managed to graduate from high school and move to Rio de Janeiro, where she became a teacher. At the end of the 1970s she became an undergraduate student of language and literature, going on to a master’s degree in Literature and finally finishing a PhD in Compared Literature three years ago*. In November this year, Evaristo will be celebrating her 70th birthday and although she has been writing since the 90s, it is only in the last 10 years or so that she has gained national and international recognition.

There are many angles from which one can understand and interpret the content and the recurrent themes in Evaristo’s  authorship. To begin with, the author’s childhood experience of growing up in a poor, black community, where the women of the family, i.e. Evaristo’s own mother and her aunts kept the oral tradition of ‘storytelling’, inherited through generations. Evaristo and her siblings learned to listen and tell and would go on to create their own stories based on pictures they would find in old magazines or books, before they themselves could read or write. This same childhood experience was also one that centered around the low-scale, underpaid jobs that the women in the family managed to get as nannies or maids, working for the well-to-do white families, a fact reminiscent of the earlier generations’  lives as house slaves, taking care of the white slave masters’  children and doing their cooking and laundry.

This collective and individual experience and memory of black ancestry, black women, poverty, diaspora and slavery has been expressed by Evaristo herself as the act of “Escrevivência”, expressing the many layers and influences that Evaristo considers make up her writings.  In addition to short stories, articles and two novels, Evaristo recently published a poetry collection called “Poemas de Recordação” – Poems of Remembrance/recollection.  Although it would be impossible here to faithfully reproduce the elaborate interpretation of the poems that Sara Brandelleiro undertook during her lecture, we nevertheless bring you one of them below as an example of Evaristo’s  powerful and dense writing:

Recordar é preciso.
O mar vagueia onduloso sob os meus pensamentos
A memória bravia lança o leme:
Recordar é preciso.
O movimento vaivém nas águas-lembranças
dos meus marejados olhos transborda-me a vida,
salgando-me o rosto e o gosto.
Sou eternamente náufraga,
mas os fundos oceanos não me amedrontam
e nem me imobilizam.
Uma paixão profunda é a bóia que me emerge.
Sei que o mistério subsiste além das águas.

To remember is necessary. 
The sea wavers and flows unto my thoughts
Untamed Memory steers the rudder:
To remember is necessary.
The aqueous memories’ rocking movement
Cause my brimming eyes to overflow with life
Salting my face and my palate.
I am forever lost at sea
But the depths of the oceans do not intimidate
Nor do they constrain me.
A deep passion emerges as my buoy.
I know the mystery survives beyond the seas.

(Translation by Sofie Saboia)

Although some of Evaristo’s short stories have already been translated into English and French, it is harder to come by any official translation of her poetry collection. There are, however, academic papers and specific sites on the internet, which include the translation of some of her poems:



Written by Maria Ulsig

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