Sadlier: “In my experience, few Brazilian writers appear on the shelves in U.S. public libraries, so I would be pleased to see any additional volumes.”

Darlene J. Sadlier is one of the well-known academics in the U.S. studying the Portuguese-speaking world. Her book Brazil Imagined is the first comprehensive cultural history of Brazil to be written in English. Before her retirement, Prof. Sadlier taught 36 years at Indiana University and also directed the Portuguese Program. Sadlier published extensively about Brazil and beyond as a writer, editor, and translator. Among her books are Nelson Pereira dos Santos, One Hundred Years After Tomorrow, An Introduction to Fernando Pessoa, The Portuguese Speaking Diaspora, and Americans All. Her most recent work The Lilly Library from A to Z was published last year. She has been elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters as a socia-correspondente in 2019. She is the only U.S. citizen and woman currently holding this lifetime position.

Prof. Sadlier kindly answered my questions about Brazil and her publications.

I would like to start with your book Brazil Imagined (2008). For the common reader who is not familiar with Brazil, could you elaborate on what you mean by “imagined”?

What I mean by “imagined” in this context is how we conceive of Brazil based on its representation in works of literature and the arts. For example, the earliest writings on Brazil described it as a place with fresh water, plentiful fish and birds, and a native population that was innocent and, unlike Europeans, practiced cleanliness. It wasn’t long before that image of a friendly, comely people was displaced by purportedly true eyewitness accounts and cartographic iconography of a fierce, man-eating community. That shift had a lot to do with the colonization process, which initially encouraged coastal settlement by representing native peoples in positive ways. As Portuguese settlements grew and Indians got in the way, it became necessary to find arguments to rid them from the popular coastal regions. Writings and sensational images of a barbarous people and cannibal acts helped to do just that.

Who are the Brazilian writers you would like to see more on the shelves of the public libraries in the U.S.? Are there any untranslated Brazilian writers or poets whose books you would like to see in English? 

In my experience, few Brazilian writers appear on the shelves in U.S. public libraries, so I would be pleased to see any additional volumes. As for my personal preferences, the list of writers past and present is long because there are so few translations.

In your book Portuguese Speaking Diaspora, you also touch upon the portrayal of slavery in Brazilian literature. Slavery, in the U.S., appears as a topic that is being revisited and popular (recently in Colson Whitehead’s and Yaa Gyasi’s works, for instance). Which writers would you recommend for our readers on the portrayal of slavery in Brazilian literature? 

Once again, the problem is the lack of translations. My Brazil Imagined volume has a section on the African slave in literature and the arts. Readers might look at two short stories: Machado de Assis’s “The Rod of Justice” and Emi Bulhões Carvalho da Fonesca’s “In the Silence in the Big House.” For poetry, they can read abolitionist Castro Alves’s “The Slave Mother” and his celebrated “The Slave Ship,” and modernist Jorge de Lima’s “That Young Black Girl Fulô.” Unfortunately, translations do not exist for some of the most powerful narratives and poetry about slavery and its legacy, including works by nineteenth-century authors Gonçalves Dias, Luís Gama and João da Cruz e Sousa. A translation does exist of abolitionist writings by statesman Joaquim Nabuco.  

In terms of modernism, it is possible to argue that Brazilian modernismo, although influenced by European modernism, is somehow different. At the same time, it is very rich. What are the literary works that represent Brazilian modernismo?

In 1915, the date associated with the beginning of Portuguese modernism, the literary review Orpheu (Orpheus) was launched. It was a collaborative transatlantic project involving the Brazilian poet Ronald de Carvalho and Portuguese writers Luís Montalvor, Fernando Pessoa and Mário Sá-Carneiro. Brazilian modernism is generally associated with 1922, the centennial celebration of independence and year of the Modern Art Week that took place in São Paulo. Canonical works in translation from the period include Mário de Andrade’s Hallucinated City and Macunaíma, and Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto” and Seraphim Gross Pointe. Poems by both these authors as well as early verses by, among others, Manuel Bandeira, Murilo Mendes, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and Cecília Meireles appear in Elizabeth Bishop’s An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry. There is a bilingual volume of Manuel Bandeira’s poems titled This Earth, That Sky translated by Candace Slater. Brazilian modernism is often classified and studied in terms of two distinct moments: 1922 to 1930 and 1930 to 1945, although one can find works that experiment with style prior to 1922 and after 1945. Post-1945 works would include the poetry of João Cabral de Melo Neto, which has been translated, and Lygia Fagundes Telles’s novel, The Girl in the Photograph.

Your book Brazil Imagined is a cultural history of Brazil. All kinds of cultural products interweave in the book and it is possible to see a larger picture of Brazil as well as the relationship between different forms of artistic expression. How would you briefly explain this merge in Brazil of many art forms and their influence on each other?

There are obviously socio-economic and political factors often determining or influencing literary and artistic interests and trends at different points in time. For example, following the proclamation of Brazilian independence in 1822, there was a desire to create a national literature, meaning works that looked to Brazil and not abroad for subject matter. But even the popular Indianist works by José de Alencar, so closely identified with 19th-century nationalism, had important precursors in France (Chateaubriand, Rousseau) and the United States (Fenimore Cooper). What my book tries to show is the relationship between different historical moments and cultural production.

I think one of the neglected regions of Brazil is the northeast. I would like to ask what is the reason behind the northeast’s artistic richness? (For example, Clarice Lispector and Recife). Could you recommend cultural and literary works that demonstrate this richness?

Just a slight correction for your readers: Clarice Lispector spent early childhood in Recife in the Northeast, but she was born in the Ukraine and spent most of her life in Rio. We tend to associate her with the Northeast because of her novel Hour of the Star, which was expertly adapted to the screen by filmmaker Susana Amaral.

Actually, there is a lot of Northeastern literature in English translation and we have Blanche Knopf to thank for her major publishing efforts as part of the Good Neighbor cultural exchanges during World War II. Major Northeastern novelists from that time include Graciliano Ramos (Barren Lives), Jorge Amado (The Violent Land), José Lins do Rego (Plantation Boy) and Raquel de Queirós (The Three Marias). The best known Latin American novelist in the U.S. until the late 1960s boom was Jorge Amado. His many novels were quickly translated by Knopf into English and circulated widely in their Avon series of colorful paperback editions. Because I am a film scholar, I refer readers to important adaptations of Northeastern literature, many by Cinema Novo directors. They include Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ classic Barren Lives and Leon Hirzsman’s São Bernardo, based on another novel by Graciliano Ramos.

The cultural richness of the Northeast is related to the fact that the Northeast was the political and cultural center of the nation for centuries because of its plantation economy. Despite the industrial rise of the Central-South, especially São Paulo, the Northeast continues to wield significant political power and some of Brazil’s wealthiest individuals live in the region. Although there is crushing poverty in the Northeast, a legacy of the master-slave plantation system, cultural production has remained strong. There is a lively artisan culture and the last few years have seen a strong resurgence in the cinema of Pernambuco, which has long had a vibrant film culture. Readers may be familiar with the recent films of Kléber Mendonça Filho, who made Cannes Festival favorites Aquarius and Bacurau, which were internationally distributed.

Since GLLI’s main focus is the libraries, our readers may find your recent book very interesting. The Lilly Library From A to Z (2019) covers the story of rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library: Indiana University’s Lilly Library. Could you please briefly inform us about Lilly Library and its Brazil collection? 

The idea for my book, The Lilly Library from A to Z: Intriguing Objects in a World-Class Collection, came about because I have made use of its Brasiliana for both my research and classroom teaching. I had just finished the Diaspora book and had been contemplating a publication that would call attention to the richness of the library’s many collections. The objects I selected serve as portals to the archives from which they derive and which I discuss at length. For example, in a section called “Cigars, Cigarettes” under the letter C, I write about two James Bond 007 cigars as a way to comment on the amazingly large and diverse Ian Fleming collection. Under the letter “D,” I write about various dolls in the library, including the paper dolls made by Sylvia Plath, whose collection draws many researchers to the library. If your readers are interested in locks of hair, the Lilly Library has many examples, including locks of Edgar Allan Poe, revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar and Hollywood star Luise Rainer. I tried to give special attention to objects and collections of individuals who had some relationship with Indiana University or the state. One of those was Charles R. Boxer, whose collection of colonial Brasiliana is world-renowned. We also have Brazilian materials in many other archives, including the collections of John Ford and Orson Welles, both of whom spent time in Brazil during World War II. The Orson Welles archive continues to be one of the library’s most popular collections, drawing scholars from around the world.


“The media coverage of Brazil’s growing poverty, violence, and corruption coexists with reports on the country’s emergence as a global economic power — a contradiction that seems more extreme with each passing year. The contradiction is especially evident in the major cityscapes, where towering multinational buildings and high-end shopping centers appear alongside modest housing and sprawling favelas, or slums. It is impossible to predict what lies ahead for a nation still referred to as “the land of the future”; nevertheless, an examination of the ways the nation has been represented over the centuries should provide us with a better understanding of the imaginary that has shaped Brazil and may shape it in the decades to come.”

Darlene J. Sadlier. Brazil Imagined. University of Texas Press, 2008.

About the Editor:

Basak Bingol Yuce is a world literature scholar, journalist, and literary translator based in the US. She holds a PhD degree in comparative literature from Binghamton University. One of her areas of study is Brazilian literature. Dr. Yuce’s journalistic work focuses on literary and international journalism. She is a regular contributor to Turkish media outlets. Dr. Yuce translated books and articles from English, French and Portuguese into Turkish, among them the works of Clarice Lispector, Terry Eagleton, Antonio Candido, André Aciman, Ken Bruen, and Harold Bloom.


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