Paul Beatty talks about racism for a receptive audience in FLUP

Juliana Coelho Netto
August 16, 2017

As the poem of Ruth Bebermeyer says “Words are windows, or they’re walls, They sentence us, or set us free”.

The singer couldn´t describe better the difference that is made when we understand the power of words and culture in our lives or even in a society. Based on this purpose, rose FLUP (Literary Festival of the Peripheries – FLUP) in 2012, with the aim of being a space for the formation of new readers and authors in the periphery of the great Brazilian cities, expanding opportunity by stimulating the reading culture, democratizing the access to literature in underprivileged areas and promoting unknown authors from the peripheries. In 2016, the project was granted with the Excellence Award by the London Book Fair.

Therefore, couldn´t be more appropriate to have as one of the panelist Columbia Professor Paul Beatty, the controversial writer of “The SellOut” to talk about race issues. The persistence of racial segregation still feeds a sizeable gulf that foster an articulation of identity militancy breeding great minds and productions. Beatty is an example of it, his illuminating work about race relations resulted in awards and his work has become a topic of several discussions due to his satiristic and acid tone. His most recent book came to be turned down 18 times because was considered too hot to handle, but, following its author paradoxical style, that was precisely the reason that this polemical bestseller granted him the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, both in 2016. Actually, it was the first time that an American writer won the Man Booker Prize, a traditional English award.

The professor was invited to participate in the panel “Variações Sobre um Velho Tema” (Variations on an old theme) together with the writer Joana Gorjão Henriques (Portugal) and the Brazilian anthropologist Julio de Tavares to debate racism, the African diaspora and colonialism.

Beatty and Joana quickly opened the conversation for audience participation that interacted with very lively questions and sharp observations about racism, whiteness, privileges and periphery.

When asked if the American felt some kind of hesitation when decided to adopted a blistering tone to address racism as was explicitly expressed on The SellOut”, he was straightforward: “I don´t have time to write for White people or to teach them. I have my story to tell and if it is told well enough there will be something to teach everyone.”

The panelists and the broad audience were so tuned that the authors felt very confortable and spoke out enthusiasticly about their work and experiences through the entire event.

The Columbia Global Centers | Rio de Janeiro develops projects in Brazil in partnership with the Columbia School of the Arts in order to explore arts and culture locally and globally, promoting themes such as cinema, creative writing and screenwriting. The Global Center has been present at FLIP since 2014. This was our first edition at FLUP.

FLUP (July 31, 2017)