Looking for Carolina Maria de Jesus
June 12, 2020 9:31 AM   Subscribe

For a brief period in the 1960s, the Afro-Brazilian author of the memoir “Child of the Dark” was one of the most well-known writers in the world. - Tarisai Ngangura writes for Longreads.

In 1960, at the age of 46, Carolina Maria de Jesus published her first book, Quarto de Despejo: Diário de uma Favelada (Child of the Dark in English). It’s comprised of diary entries written on scraps of paper and assembled into a memoir about life in Canindé, a favela community in the Brazilian city of São Paulo. The book sold more than 10,000 copies in less than a week, was eventually translated into 16 languages, and distributed in 46 countries, making Carolina Maria one of Brazil’s most widely read authors. And for a while, the most famous person in the country.

Starting in the late 1800s, the very first favelas, known as bairros-africanos, were inhabited by formerly enslaved people. Today, the country’s Institute of Geography and Statistics calls them “sub-normal clusters.” Favelas lack basic sanitation, electricity, and health facilities and are located primarily in city centers. After Quarto de Despejo’s instant success, Carolina Maria became a fleeting cause célèbre for the rights of favelados.
posted by plant or animal (5 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Beautiful essay, thank you for posting it.
posted by mareli at 2:11 PM on June 12, 2020

Great article, thanks for posting! If anyone's curious, here's the O Cruzeiro article that made her famous.
posted by Tom-B at 5:24 PM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am just over the moon that you posted this. As a teen, I found her diary in my high school library. Sometimes I would skip gym class and hide in the library reading it, picking up wherever I left off. Her writing was so engaging and brutal in its honesty; whenever I opened the book I felt like I was falling back into conversation with a good friend. I had no idea she was so famous at the time of its publication, but it doesn't surprise me. I recommend it to people I meet all the time, and I think about her and her diary at least once a week. Few things stick with a person that way.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:05 PM on June 12, 2020

Thank you for posting this! I'm hunting down a copy.

What would be a modern-day account of daily favela life by someone who lives there? There must be someone writing or recording...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:09 AM on June 13, 2020

Here in São Paulo, I'd recommend Capão Pecado by Ferréz, from the Literatura Marginal movement. He's the closest to what Carolina was doing, just a straight up slice of life narrative, but not explicitly autobiographical. In Rio de Janeiro, you have Rio em Shamas by Anderson França, short chronicles with bitter, acid humor. Also from Rio, there's Suburburinho (vols. 1 and 2) by André Gabeh, but he goes the complete opposite way of Carolina, with full-on slapstick, almost surrealistic comedy. Unfortunately, these are available only in Portuguese.

And yeah, all men. To offset that, I got to add one newly recognized writer from Minas Gerais; Conceição Evaristo. She's not documenting contemporary life, her book Ponciá Vicêncio is set in the post-abolition era and is almost, but not quite, magical realism. But it's been translated to English and is a great read!
posted by Tom-B at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

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