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FLIP 2016: Some Considerations

By Eric M. B. Becker


Image: Gabriela Wiener presents with Juliana Frank at FLIP. Photo by Luisa Leme.

This year the Festa Literária International de Paraty—the international literary festival better known as FLIP, an annual affair in the seaside colonial town of Paraty, Brazil, smack-dab between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro—was intended to be a spartan affair. At least to the extent a major international literary festival can be so. Brazil, we all know, is in crisis both economic and political. This augured ill for the festival. And yet.

While this was my very first FLIP, what bears mention first and foremost is the incredible richness of the events this year. From events with Nobel winner and WWB contributor Svetlana Alexievich to Brazilian short story master Marcília França Castro, the mesas at this year’s festival did not disappoint. Also among WWB contributors were Valeria Luiselli, Álvaro Enrigue, and Gabriela Wiener, who eloquently discoursed on writing about sex at the same time she had to endure an obnoxious panel-mate, Juliana Frank, who, among other things, flashed a mirror to deflect photographs and interrupted Wiener with frankly antifeminist remarks that sent many attendees straight to the exit. A shame for them, because when Wiener did manage to get a word in edgewise, she spoke about seeking out other possible sexualities through literature. A personal highlight was a copresentation of translations of Alice Sant’anna—forthcoming in English later this month—with the poet herself at an event organized by Brazil’s National Library and the Universidade Federal Fluminense.


Image: Alice Sant'anna presents at FLIP. Photo by Luisa Leme.​

FLIP is a festival that certainly rivals other high-profile festivals in the US and elsewhere. Ultimately, the proposals of each are different: Brazil has always looked outward—the majority of books published in Brazil are by foreign writers—and the US inward. But FLIP manages to marry two important initiatives, the first being to introduce Brazilian audiences to foreign writers, and the second being the insertion of Brazilian writers and Brazilian literature into the global literary context. My comparison with literary festivals around the globe is aimed not at provoking some sort of rivalry, and instead in the hopes of encouraging others who might have little experience with Brazil to consider putting FLIP on their festival tour itinerary.


Representation of Women

In the past, one of the major criticisms of FLIP has been the representation of women writers at the festival. If only ten of thirty-eight writers invited in 2015 were women, this year saw eighteen women among the forty writers composing the festival’s main programming, a marked improvement. Each year, the festival honors an important Brazilian writer, and this year’s choice of the “marginal” poet Ana Cristina Cesar reinforced the positive move represented in the gender composition of festival panels.

This year’s choice of the “marginal” poet Ana Cristina Cesar reinforced the positive move represented in the gender composition of festival panels.

At least as important, to my mind, as choosing a woman writer as the honoree was the manner in which the festival emphasized the legacy of Ana C.—as she is affectionately known here—in contemporary Brazilian literature. The very first event to follow the festival opening was “A teus pés” (At your feet). More than a mere homage to Ana C, the event included contemporary poets Marília García, Laura Liuzzi, and Annita Costa Malufe, heirs to Ana C. who discussed the influence of the poet on their work and read poems of their own. Festival organizers deserve much credit for elucidating the abiding influence of Ana C.—who committed suicide at the age of thirty-one in 1983—in contemporary Brazilian poetry.

The event was just one to include a protest against the interim federal government of Michel Temer, who many consider to have assumed power in an illegitimate impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. The interim president’s poetry, the source of much ridicule, was compared by Liuzzi to Temer’s legitimacy as president.


Image: FLIP Offices in Paraty, Brazil. Photo by Eric M. B. Becker.


Representation of Afro-Brazilian writers

If the controversy last year was over the representation of women at the festival, this year yet another question of representation arose: not a single black writer appeared at this year’s festival. Giovana Xavier, coordinator of the Black Intellectuals Study and Research Group at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, wrote an open letter to FLIP curator Paulo Werneck criticizing the absence of black writers. In response to the criticism, Werneck released a list of writers and artists—both Brazilian and non-Brazilian—who refused invitations to the festival. Among those who declined: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Marie NDiaye.

At last year’s FLIP, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o noted the absence of black faces in the audience. In interviews, Werneck accepted the responsibility of FLIP to work for change but noted that the issue is closely related to bigger societal questions in Brazil, including the democratization of access to books.

The question of the representation of Afro-Brazilian writers has been under serious discussion for some time, especially when it comes to the translation of Brazilian writers into English.

As American writer Naomi Jackson explains in our July 2016 issue, the question of the representation of Afro-Brazilian writers has been under serious discussion for some time, especially when it comes to the translation of Brazilian writers into English.


Accessibility

Yet another important question raised was that of accessibility. At R$50 (roughly USD $16) per event, there is a very real question of access to literary festival. And yet, Paraty was abuzz with the many free events that compose the “parallel programming,” many of them of a quality equal to the paid presentations and presented by entities such as SESC—a social institution—and the Instituto Moreira Salles. Among the many parallel events was a panel with April 2016 WWB contributor Noemi Jaffe. While the question of access to the main programming should receive continued debate, the richness of the parallel events suggests that those who largely attended these free events experienced debates of the highest caliber.


WWB at FLIP

In addition to my presentation with Alice Sant’anna, one of the many gratifying points of the week was that the festival coincided with the release of WWB’s July issue, “Brazil Beyond Rio.” Just before and throughout the festival, the issue garnered attention in the Folha de S. Paulo (Brazil’s leading daily), O Globo, and Jornal Opção, before also drawing the attention stateside of the New York Times.


Image: O Globo article, featuring WWB editor Eric M. B. Becker.


Considerations for the future

In her FLIP roundup last year, Marina Araújo noted that FLIP, as originally conceived, was a gathering of up-and-coming writers. She expressed worry that it had now become a gathering place for an elite. While this is a valid criticism, I’d caution against throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This year signaled a willingness on the part of the festival to take prior criticism into account. Last year, the festival was criticized for its gender disparity; this year, it achieved near gender parity. This year, the festival was criticized for the lack of black writers; next year and each year to come, we can only hope that this is remedied. As readers and as part of the international literary community, it is up to us to continue to push against the injustices or disparities we see in festivals like FLIP. In many ways, our community is no different from any other social construct: we have to take a certain responsibility to change our attitudes and our behaviors to be progressively more inclusive, rather than rely on a single curator or literary festival. We like to think of ourselves as an enlightened group; well, then, let’s have the generosity of spirit to dialogue for change and recognize the efforts of those who partner with us toward this progress.

 

Further Reading:


Published Aug 1, 2016   Copyright 2016 Eric M. B. Becker

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