Graphic design Kiko Farkas / Máquina Estúdio e Mateus Valadares / Máquina Estúdio
21.00 x 14.00 cm, 256 pp. ISBN 9788535916591 48,50
The ABC of Castro Alves Biography, 1941 | Afterword by Alberto da Costa e Silva
“The public square is to the people what the sky is to the condor”, says one of Castro Alves’ best-known poems. Author of Espumas flutuantes (Floating Foam), Vozes d’África (Voices of Africa) and Navio negreiro (Slaveship), he was known as the poet of the slaves, thanks to his abolitionist campaigning and compositions on the suffering of the African captives. Precocious experiences of courage, romanticism and struggle marked his poetry, which was driven by a love of liberty. Antônio Frederico de Castro Alves was born in the hinterlands of Bahia in 1847 against a backdrop of bloody disputes, forbidden loves and laws that catered to the whims of men. It was during his childhood, spent between Curralinho, now the town of Castro Alves, and the state capital, Salvador, that Cecéu had his first taste of poetic experience. He discovered love and death in the mysteries of the family of his mother, Clélia Brasília, and the importance of struggle in his proximity to his uncle, João José. A popular agitator, his uncle was the very opposite of his father, the respectable physician Antônio José Alves. In rendering the biography of Castro Alves, Jorge Amado reaches back into the poet’s earliest days in order to reconstruct the most important facts of his life, such as the discovery of Byron and Victor Hugo, his love affair with the Portuguese actress Eugênia Câmara, his studies in law in Recife and São Paulo, the debates with Tobias Barreto, his friendship with Fagundes Varela, his republican campaigning alongside Rui Barbosa and Joaquim Nabuco, and his death from tuberculosis at the age of 24. In passionate tone and at a novel’s pace, Jorge Amado narrates the life of a writer who made poetry a weapon of the people and an instrument of beauty, commitment and hope. The lyrical and engaging feel of the narrative is accompanied by the historical rigor of the research, the critical sensitivity of the novelist and the handpicked poems by Castro Alves that Jorge Amado works into the biographical fabric.
Illustration by Iberê Camargo
Jorge Amado wrote The ABC of Castro Alves during a period of intense political activity. As a member of the Brazilian Communist Party, the author suffered persecution under the Novo Estado (New State), the dictatorial regime established by Getúlio Vargas in 1937. He was imprisoned twice and some of his earlier works were even burned by the police. In 1939, recently released from prison and working as editor in chief for the magazines Dom Casmurro and Directrizes in Rio de Janeiro, Jorge Amado began work on the biography of Castro Alves. The first chapter of the ABC of the Bahian poet was published in Directrizes in 1940 and the author completed the book at his home in the Urca neighbourhood in March 1941. The volume was brought out the same year by Livraria Martins Editora, in São Paulo. At the time of its launch, Jorge Amado was travelling in Uruguay and Argentina, where he had started researching for a biography of Luís Carlos Prestes, The Knight of Hope, published in Buenos Aires in 1942. Back in Brazil, the political situation was still turbulent and The ABC of Castro Alves was heavily censored and banned from sale or exhibition in bookstores by the Propaganda and Press Department (DIP). In this book, Jorge Amada describes Castro Alves as “a democrat in the purest sense of the word” and as “the father of Black American poetry”. Throughout the work the author addresses an imaginary reader referred to simply as “friend”, thus revealing a desire for dialogue with his readership and with the people of Bahia, a fact further reflected in the use of the title ABC of…, which was a popular form of composition usually reserved for the lives of heroes and saints. This was not the only time Jorge Amado would write about the poet of slaves. In 1944, at the behest of the actress Bibi Ferreira, he penned a play entitled O amor de Castro Alves (The Love of Castro Alves). The piece was never actually staged, but was later published under the title O amor do soldado (The Love of a Soldier) (1947). The ABC of Castro Alves was adapted for ballet at Teatro Castro Alves under the title Sonhos de Castro Alves (Dreams of Castro Alves), with original concept by Antonio Carlos Cardoso, choreography by Víctor Navarro and music by Egberto Gismonti.
He had learned, my friend, in his childhood days in Bahia, this one truth: the town square belongs to the people, it is its battlefield. It is at meetings, demonstrations, protests and rallies that the people come together and rise up. It is there that the march begins. There is nothing more beautiful that a square thronged with a crowd, riles and in protest. Ideas pour from the square, men pour from the square. Castro Alves fused the personality of the revolutionary artist with the condition of the rebel. If verses are the weapons of the people, they should be recited to the people. More than that, they should often be born in the people’s midst, in the swarm of the masses. The poet, my friend, did not just sing the popular sentiment, raising his cry from afar. He came to the square on many occasions, many times he came and stood among and before the multitude. The blood of his forbearers spoke in his veins: Major Silva Castro leading the battalions of Independence, Pórcia eloping with her lover in a magnificent display of courage, second lieutenant João José Alves, a popular meeting-goer, sword in-hand, at the head of the rabble.