Politics, Literature, and Culture in Brazil: The Leila Míccolis Collection
by Tatiana Faria
Over the last several months, I have had the privilege of working with an extensive collection of alternative press materials from Brazil. Most of the pieces—in the form of newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, and comics—are from 1968-1990, a time of political unrest and oppression for Brazil. From 1964-1985, Brazil was under a military dictatorship that censored and repressed mass media. Brave activists, writers, and groups created these alternative press pieces amidst political turmoil, distributed them independently and were thus able to spread their ideas, their work, and their art.
Unfortunately, the collection is far too large for me to have been able to read or even skim everything—there are 121 boxes and each box contains a different number of folders (ranging from 2 to 41). However, even just through gathering data for a finding aid for the collection—establishing creators, dates, contributors, subjects, etc.—I was able to garner an understanding of some of the movements, ideals, and concerns of the time. Freedom of expression is a huge concern in many of the works in the collections, and much of the writing is about writing. There are countless poems written about the art of poetry, the difficult life of the poet, and the process of writing a poem. So many of the pieces, even when they are discussing other topics (such as music or cinema), also relate directly to the political climate and offer politically conscious discussion of their specific topics.
This collection was compiled by Leila Míccolis, poet and teacher from Brazil. Because of Míccolis’s highly literary background, the collection unsurprisingly contains a lot of literary pieces, including poetry zines and newsletters. Many of these are simply two folded sheets of paper containing several short poems by different authors and others are anthologies of poetry showcasing just one poet. The most interesting part about reading through these homemade-looking, typewritten pieces is the reappearance of certain authors. Many of the publications feature the same authors, indicating, most likely, relationships between the writers and publishers. Names like Paulo Leminski, Mário de Almeida, Glauco Mattoso, Teresinka Pereira, Floriano Martins, and Marcelo Dolabela recur so often I have committed them to memory. We were able to connect with Leila Míccolis through social media, and many of her public internet interactions were with familiar names I encountered in the collection. This seems to support my speculation that many of these authors nurture social relationships with each other as well as working relationships.
The collection also contains some non-Portuguese language pieces, featuring writings in Spanish, Italian, French, and English, among others. A contributing poet from many of the Brazilian poetry zines in the collection, Teresinka Pereira, is also the editor of The Activist and Alternative, publications from Bluffton, Ohio, and editor of two publications from Boulder, Colorado, International Poetry and Poema Convidado. She also served as president of International Writers Association based out of Bluffton.
Although much of the collection is heavily literary, there are a vast variety of other topics, the predominant ones being ecology and environmentalism, politics, music, cinema, anarchism, women’s rights, racism, and LGBTQ concerns. Some of the pieces I found most interesting were those concerning human rights issues, namely ones concerning race (Afrodite Perdeu o Rumo, Nzinga, 1˚ Encontro Nacional da Mulher Negra, Cadernos Estudos Afro-Asiáticos, Revista África-Brasil, Extravia), gender (Escritos Sobre Feminismo, Feminismo: Uma Questão Politica?, Mulher-Libertação, Sempre Viva, Força Mulher, Nexo, Voz de Mulher) and LGBTQ sexualities (Chanacomchana, Jornal Gay Internacional, Nós Também, Previna-se, Suplemento G, Atobá, Lampião da Esquina).
The comics are undoubtedly the most fun, as they have politically conscious and/or often humorously atypical themes (such as Aventuras de Glaucomix o Pedólatra by Glauco Mattoso, featuring a largely autobiographical character who loves feet).
The art in these comics is admirable and detailed, as is the art in some of the more text-based pieces. Many of the poetry volumes contain hand-drawn illustrations that either connect to the text or structure the text. A perfect example of this is a piece entitled Centopêlha, with a large caterpillar encasing short poems and quotations.
Overall, the Leila Míccolis Collection is fantastic for anyone with an interest in Brazilian politics, literature, social issues, and culture. The non-Portuguese speaker should not be daunted, considering the number of international pieces with work in various languages and the highly visual nature of many of the pieces. The collection is an extensive study in the history, culture, and development of Brazil.