Introduction: Writing from Brazil

How does a Brazilian write? How should a writer respond to a country as full of variety and stories as Brazil? And what do we in the Anglophone world know about Brazilian culture today? As you might expect, we have a multiplicity of responses for you in this  issue.

We wanted to bring you authors who are just waiting to be discovered in the Anglophone world and let you choose your own favorites. We wanted to go beyond the expected stories and settings (the favela gangsters and the sexy beach folk).   Reflecting the wealth of contemporary Brazilian poetry, half of the eleven authors here are poets (exactly half: five and a half—Rodrigo de Souza Leão is a poet and novelist, so counts as both, though appears here in the latter role).  There are rich pickings in Brazilian prose today, too, both in fiction and in the very Latin American genre of the crónica (a literary and anecdotal column), represented here by one of its finest practioners, Antônio Prata.

Bossa nova might still be the musical style Brazil is known for, but it is fifty years old; the new kids on the block are YouTube popstars.  Prata faces this regrettable situation head-on, hatching a scheme involving Shakespeare, Harold Bloom, and the manufactured pop sensation Michel Teló.  As this combination suggests, Brazilian writers are very much part of a universal literary culture, and Shakespeare is far from  the only non-Brazilian influence appearing in this issue. Laurenço Mutarelli’s cynical pawnbroker reads James Ellroy and Paul Auster. Antônio Moura’s poem blends Melville’s Moby Dick with the swarms of mosquitoes of Moura’s Amazonian home. Horácio Costa’s poem alludes to the “sweet ladies” of T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land while taking in São Paulo’s main avenue, Avenida Paulista, and the area’s gay culture and saunas, while another T.S. Eliot poem makes an appearance in a small southern town in Carol Bensimon’s piece. And the narrator of Rodrigo de Souza Leão’s All Dogs Are Blue is friends with two hallucinations in his Rio asylum: Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

The styles and concerns of the poets here are immensely varied. Orides Fontela’s work is sparse, attentive to the moment and to making language new; Horácio Costa’s expansive; Armando Freitas Filho’s tight and controlled; Antônio Moura’s a riff on the start of Moby Dick within the controlled form of couplets; Angélica Freitas’s sharp, playful and apparently effortless. In prose, Mutarelli and Souza Leão write without restraint, revealing sordid sides to their narrators’ minds and life in Brazil; Vinicius Jatobá movingly shows us a working-class Rio family coping with loss; Carol Bensimon portrays a young man struggling to come to terms with a shocking death; Cristhiano Aguiar finds mysticism in the murky depths of São Paulo’s gutter of a river.

Wherever these writers are writing from, however dark their subject matter, their writing shines.