By Leonardo Tonus
The Brazilian Literary Spring (Printemps Littéraire Brésilien) is an annual festival that aims to promote the study of Portuguese-language literature and humanities in institutions located beyond the borders of “Lusofonia.” The idea was born in 2014, in the Brazilian literature classes that I teach at the Sorbonne, in Paris. In a way, I can say that it came about as a response to the same questions that literary critic and researcher Suzana Vargas would put forward in 2015 with respect to the Brazilian government’s policies for the internationalization of cultural goods: “What is being celebrated in literary festivals? Is it really worth it to pay authors to cross the country from one corner to another, and does an event like a fair really make sense, if the goal is to draw new publics to literature?”
To be sure, 2015 marked the high point of Brazil’s official support for book export activities. Launched at the time of democratic transition, this policy essentially hinged on the country’s participation in major international literary events. However, in its drive to conquer the international publishing market, the Brazilian government was overlooking one of the very cornerstones of the literary field – a key ingredient that the Brazilian Literary Spring has sought to highlight from the very beginning: the relationship between authors and readers.
It was in 2005 that I first started to invite writers that were passing through Paris to come to my Brazilian literature classes. On my students’ own suggestion, I organized the first Brazilian literature week at the Sorbonne in 2014, bringing in 20 guest authors. My goal was (and still is) for my students to get to know the new Brazilian literary scene. I also wanted to give them the opportunity to take part in a common project, centered on literature. Beyond the critical readings carried out in the classroom, there were forays into translation, based on excerpts from the guest authors’ works, as well as panel discussions organized by the students themselves. In that sense, the spirit of collaboration was already part and parcel of the festival when it came into the world in 2014 – and that spirit remains very much alive, as we celebrate the festival’s 7th edition this year.
It was in 2016 that the festival began to extend its international reach, adopting a traveling format that would bring it to other European countries, to the United States and Canada. More than 200 novelists, short story writers, poets, graphic novelists, illustrators, filmmakers, dramaturgs and visual artists have now taken part in the Brazilian Literary Spring. If I think back to the project’s initial objectives, I can safely say that its outcomes have been extremely positive: from students’ growing interest in Portuguese-language literature, to the new translations of guest authors’ works, to the bridges built between organizations and institutions promoting Lusophone literature in the international sphere. Since its first edition, the festival has emerged as an important space for dialogue and debate around literature, stimulating new readings and facilitating enriching cultural experiences centered on the Portuguese language. It has made these achievements in spite of the countless stumbling blocks encountered along the way – notably, those encountered this year, with the coronavirus crisis.
Between February and June, more than 70 novelists, short story writers, poets, essayists and actors working in Latin America, North America and Europe should have been presenting their work in 5 European countries and 12 North American cities. Seeing as the festival’s activities all had to be canceled, I decided to launch a second project over social media. I named it “Sacadas Literárias,” or “Literary Balconies.” The idea came to me when I realized that many of my students (especially those who are here in France on exchange) were going to find themselves in isolation, with no possibility of returning to their countries or even accessing the library. With the help of a few students, I created groups on WhatsApp to exchange practical information and cultural content. As the days began to pass, I suggested that we migrate to other digital platforms to that we could share the information we were gathering more widely. To be sure, as mandatory quarantine set in, we found ourselves disconnected from our usual spaces of work and socialization. From one day to the next, it became unacceptable to carry out any “non-essential” activities in public space. From one day to the next, life became dull – and suddenly we became more aware of the limits of our existence, of the limits of our access to information on the Internet, and, above all, of the vital importance of culture in our lives. I’m happy every time I see a new student, reader or writer, from a different part of the world, hop on board for one of the two projects. In its collaborative and participatory nature, “Sacadas Literárias” channels the spirit and goals of the Brazilian Literary Spring, creating a new space of discovery, conversation, and cultural and affective exchange around Portuguese-language writing.
(Translated from Portuguese by Lara Bourdin)
 « O que se festeja nas festas literárias? » in Jornal o Globo, 4 de Abril de 2015. Acesso : https://oglobo.globo.com/cultura/livros/o-que-se-festeja-nas-festas-literarias-15766932
About the Writer:
Leonardo Tonus is Professor of Brazilian Literature at Sorbonne-Université (France). In 2014, he was awarded the prestigious title of Chevalier des Palmes Académiques by the French Ministry of Education, and in 2015, he was decorated Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. He was the curator for the 2015 edition of the Paris Book Fair (Salon du Livre) as well as for the exhibition Oswald de Andrade: passeur anthropophage, presented at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 2016. He is the founder and head organizer of the annual Brazilian Literary Spring festival. He has published various academic articles on contemporary Brazilian writers and has coordinated (and co-coordinated) a number of publications, including Samuel Rawet: ensaios reunidos (José Olimpio, 2008), as well as the anthologies La littérature brésilienne contemporaine — spécial Salon du Livre de Paris 2015 (Revista Pessoa, 2015), Olhar Paris (Nós, 2016), Escrever Berlim (Nós, 2017) e Min al mahjar ila al watan – Da Terra de Migração Para a Terra Natal (Revista Pessoa/Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism/Kalima, 2019). His poems have been published in several national and international anthologies and journals. He is the author of two poetry collections: Agora vai ser assim (Nós, 2018) and Inquietações em tempos de insônia (Nós, 2019).