The 2nd Brazilian Literary Festival sponsored by the Brazilian Embassy in Washington D.C. was held at Georgetown University on November 1, 2010. Associate Professor Vivaldo Andrade dos Santos of Georgetown introduced a panel of five Brazilian writers: Cristovão Tezza, José Luiz Passos, Ph.D., Luiz Ruffato, Marçal Aquino and Tatiana Salem Levy, Ph.D.
During the morning session, the panelists discussed their paths into a literary life. Only one of them, Tatiana Levy, came from a literary family. She was born in Lisbon, where one of her parents was living in exile from the Brazilian military dictatorship. She is descended from Turkish Jews. Tatiana aimed for a literary life from childhood, eventually earning a Ph.D. in literature. The others found their way into literature through a variety of moves that they would not have anticipated in childhood.
Cristovão Tezza was born in a small town in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. When his father died, the family moved to Curitiba. While still in high school, he acted in Denise Stoklos’ first play. Upon graduation, he studied for a year to join the merchant marine, then spent a year wandering in Europe. He now teaches at the Federal University of Parana.
José Luiz Passos grew up on a plantation in Northeastern Brazil. Eventually, he emigrated to the United States where he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and Director of the Center for Brazilian Studies. He writes literary criticism, and has recently published a novel inspired by the experience of revisiting the plantation where he grew up.
Luiz Ruffato told us of a nearly illiterate childhood in a small town. He worked as a journalist before he took to writing novels. His presentation was so well-spoken and literate that it made me suspect that his untutored childhood self was a fictional creation.
Marçal Aquino, also a journalist, writes poetry, novels and screen plays. He also is the product of a small town. I had the impression that writing for the screen is his most lucrative activity, but he has been a prolific writer of poetry, prose and juvenile fiction.
Why are they writers? All of them are in love with the mental life that writing inspires. It is not surprising to find two employed as university teachers, but it is more remarkable that three support themselves as professional writers in a country where a best-selling novel may sell 3,000 copies. They are assiduous, disciplined and productive.
The afternoon session explored the questions: What is Brazilian literature? What is it’s place in the international market? According to these writers, Brazilian literature does not have a characteristic style. Rather, it is simply work written by and about Brazilians.
Brazilian literature is not so widely known abroad as the work of French, English, German, Russian, and even Japanese writers. Nonetheless, all five panelists have been successful in publishing their work internationally in translation. They all read widely literature from other countries.
The conference was well-attended. Unfortunately, something had gone wrong with the heating system in Georgetown’s Copley Formal Lounge, so everyone was cold.