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Where the Sidewalk Bends: The Flip of all Flips

By Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren

Located on Brazil’s lush Green Coast, midway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Paraty is a colonial-era town of whitewashed buildings with brightly painted shutters, famous for its beaches, mountains, and cachaça distilleries. For five days last week, its unwieldy cobblestone streets (aka pedras portuguesas falsas) were filled with not only the usual backpackers, horse-drawn carriages, and friendly stray dogs, but also 25,000-some literary types from around the world, who had traveled there for the 12th annual Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip).  Foot traffic moved steadily back and forth across the small stone bridge as visitors attended readings and discussions in the main performance space before crossing back to the other side of town to check out smaller events, theatrical and musical street performances, and the many bookstores, art galleries, and restaurants in the historic city center.


Millôr Fernandes (1923-2012), the acclaimed Brazilian writer, journalist, humorist, cartoonist, poet, playwright, and translator, joined the ranks of Clarice Lispector and Oswald de Andrade this year, as Flip’s official “author of honor.” The festival paid homage to Fernandes in a variety of ways. Quotations from his writings were used as literary panel titles, while his colorful, whimsical drawings served as backdrops for the events; his caricatures and cartoons were on display at the cultural center Casa Azul (the Blue House); and local bookstores sold his books. There were also several events dedicated to his work, which is notable for spanning multiple genres and being both impactful and accessible.


To accommodate the World Cup, this year’s festivities, normally held at the beginning of July, were shifted to July 30-August 3. The festival kicked off last Wednesday night with a Millôr-centric opening session, which later gave way to music in the open-air pavilion on the other side of the bridge: samba from Felipe Guaraná and his band, followed by Brazilian musical royalty, Gal Costa. The international writers in attendance included Jhumpa Lahiri, Andrew Solomon, Elif Batuman, Michael Pollan, Joël Dicker, and Graciela Mochkofsky. Bernardo Kucinski, Davi Kopenawa, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, and Cacá Diegues were some of the featured Brazilian speakers. Vladimir Sorokin had the honor of being the first Russian author to participate in Flip. WWB contributor Daniel Hahn moderated a high-energy panel on translation with Brazilian poet/translator Paulo Henrique Britto, Brazilian author José Luiz Passos, and British novelist Sam Byers, all fresh off of participating in the first ever “Literary Translation Winter School” at the British Centre for Literary Translation, where participants spent seven days translating and workshopping excerpts from the featured writers.


Accessibility has been a major criticism of past Flips. In response to protests at last year’s festival about the steep price of ticketed events inside the closed tents (R$46/US$20 each), the main events were broadcast on big-screen TVs and large-scale viewing screens this year, with plenty of outdoor seating, so people could participate for free. Some screens featured simultaneous interpreting; audience members could also wear headsets to tune in to their language of choice during the panels. Another change to the 2014 Flip was the addition of architecture-related panels. There were also more events held in open-air plazas, such as the musical performances. Festival organizers said they were aiming to bring Flip back to its founding spirit by being more inclusive, and to create stronger ties between the festival and Paraty’s local residents in the process.

One of the major things that sets Flip apart from other literary festivals is the natural beauty of its surroundings. Instead of watching the panels from inside a conference room, as happens at big events in the US like the upcoming AWP conference, I was able to listen to Israeli author Etgar Keret and Mexican author Juan Villoro read excerpts from their books and talk about “The True History of Paradise” (one of my favorite panels) while sitting in the sun, surrounded by colonial-era architecture, green hills, and calm blue water. To take advantage of this unique setting, several boats in the area offered writing-related excursions, including an hour-long ride with readings of William Shakespeare and Fernando Pessoa. The weather was perfect throughout the festival (warm during the day, brisk at night), so I was able to get a boat ride and a hike in alongside all of the readings, book signings, and musical performances.


British publisher Liz Calder founded Flip in 2002 as a means to promote literacy within Brazil as well as to promote Brazilian literature abroad. With that in mind, running concurrent to Flip’s main programming were FlipZona and Flipinha, which both aim to bring young readers into the fold. Off-Flip programming featured local Paraty writers and representatives of the organization Movimento por um Brasil Literário (Movement for a Literary Brazil). Flip has also spawned several sister festivals around Brazil, such as Fliporto (Pernambuco Literary Festival) and Flupp, a literary festival in the favelas, which is the culmination of writing workshops with the community’s residents led by well-known authors. But Flip remains the main event for Brazil’s literary crowd. Playing off Brazilian president Dilma’s phrase calling this year’s World Cup “a Copa das Copas,” festival organizer Paulo Werneck declared this year’s diverse programming “a Flip das Flips.” 

Published Aug 7, 2014   Copyright 2014 Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren

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