Rio has always been a city of encounters. Now, the changes the city is undergoing are fostering even more mixing.
FLIP, the annual literary festival that’s taken place in the Rio state seaside colonial town of Paraty for the last ten years, has long brought foreign authors to Rio for post-festival readings and debates. But this year marks the debut of such authors at favela literary events.
“This is the first place I’ve been where I see people who look like me,” said Teju Cole, the Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian, scanning the audience in a Cantagalo favela auditorium. FLIP, which took place starting July 4 and ended this past Sunday, attracts an upper-class white public.
Monday, Granta editor John Freeman, Welsh writer Cynan Jones, Cuban writer Zoé Valdez and Pakistani-British author Hanif Kureishi spoke at a gathering organized by FLUPP in the Morro dos Prazeres favela, in Santa Teresa. Funded by Brazil’s National Development Bank (BNDES), FLUPP is a series of literary gatherings and writing workshops held since April in pacified (UPP) favelas.
Today, FLUPP’s FLIP connection wound up in Morro do Cantagalo in Ipanema with Suketu Mehta, author of Bombay, Maximum City, along with Douglas Mayhew, a Rio-based American working on a book about favelas; and Luiz Eduardo Soares, a public safety expert and co-author of the books that led to the movies Elite Squad I and II.
Not only was the audience racially mixed, but the afternoon began with a freestyle rap contest featuring Teju Cole’s favorite song (by chance), and attracted the likes of State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame, FLIP director Miguel Conde, drug policy expert Julita Lemgruber, and young people connected to the Agência Redes para Juventude, a pioneering youth program funded by Petrobras.
Audience members and panelists discussed many aspects of Rio’s pacification and urban integration, both plusses and minuses.
Cole advised local writers to tell their stories with nuance, in as complicated a manner as possible. This is to combat outsiders’ tendency to oversimplify. “No one can tell your story for you,” he pointed out.
Mayhew was drawn to favelas– and has canvassed eighty so far, with his writing/photography partner Marcelo Castro– when volunteering at a local public hospital. “I saw a child who had suffered a gunshot wound. His arrival at the hospital was delayed by a drug trafficker. He didn’t allow the child to be seen by a doctor because his parents had transgressed a rule he’d made,” Mayhew recounted.
Mayhew suggested that everyone should make a point of going to a favela, to get to know that reality– though each one is different and has many varying neighborhoods and streets within its confines.
Mehta, whose talk at the FLIP was the subject of RioReal’s last post, said that cities such as Lagos, Bombay, and Johannesburg have an eye on Rio de Janeiro. “All over the world people are watching,” he warned. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to bringing parts of the city under government control. So it’s very important you guys get it right.”