Thank You and Farewell: A Floating Tribute to Ecio Salles and His Legacy for Favela Literature

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Last Tuesday afternoon, July 23, friends and family members of writer and cultural producer Ecio Salles (1969-2019) gathered at the Park Library, in downtown Rio de Janeiro, to pay homage to the co-founder of the Literary Festival of the Peripheries (FLUP). Along the library’s sidewalk on Presidente Vargas Avenue, the crowd set loose dozens of white balloons inscribed with poems and messages, saluting the late Salles with a cry of “Axé.” The gesture alluded to the festival’s annual tradition of beginning its activities with a flight of white balloons, inspired by the aerial poetry movement organized by Cooperifa years ago.

Márcio Rufino, a participant in the Ciclo de Narrativas Curtas (Short Narratives Circle) event and the Black Narratives Lab at FLUP, says that the white balloon tradition goes back even farther. “When [he] was at the City of Nova Iguaçu Cultural Office, Ecio always did this kind of thing, gathering the people to let loose balloons with verses and poems stuck to them.” At the time, Rufino was the cultural liaison for Bairro-Escola, a Nova Iguaçu City government project in Greater Rio, and participated in the Pó de Poesia poetry collective.

Trajectory and Work

In 2008, when Marcus Faustini put together his team at the City of Nova Iguaçu Cultural Office, Ecio Salles and Julio Ludemir met. For the first few years, Salles worked as sub-Secretary, later becoming Secretary for 2010 and 2011. In 2012, Salles and Ludemir founded the Literary Festival of the Peripheries, FLUP, initially christened the Literary Festival of the UPPs (a reference to Rio’s Pacifying Police Units), or FLUPP.

The FLUPP’s first edition took place in the favela of Morro dos Prazeres, located in the hills near Christ the Redeemer. The second, by then renamed the Literary Festival of the Peripheries, moved to the North Zone’s Vigário Geral favela, marking a sort of return for Salles to the community where he began his work in 1993 as one of the coordinators of the NGO Afroreggae. FLUP would go on to hold its annual festivals in Mangueira, near the Maracanã stadium; Chapeu Mangueira, in the hills overlooking Copacabana beach; City of God, in the West Zone; and Vidigal, in the South Zone. Last year’s FLUP took place at the Valongo Wharf, Rio’s historic slave port, using the nearby Park Library as one of its central event spaces.

Danielle Bernadino, Salles’ widow and mother of their two daughters, reminded attendants of the significance of her husband’s wake taking place there at the library, surrounded by so many books and friends. At the entrance to the library’s main hall, Salles’ books lined the shelves, including titles like Poesia Revoltada (Revolted Poetry), and História e Memória de Vigário Geral (History and Memory of Vigário Geral), co-produced with Maria Paula Araújo; Eu me chamo Rio (My name is Rio) and FLUPP Pensa Narrativas Curtas (Short Narratives of FLUPP Pensa), both organized with Ludemir.

Salles studied Language Arts at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) before completing a Masters Degree in Brazilian Literature at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF) in 2003, and writing his dissertation Poesia Revoltada, um estudo sobre o hip hop no Brasil (Angry Poetry, a study on hip-hop in Brazil), later published by Editora Aeroplano. In 2009, with his thesis Sonoridades da Existência: música, comunicação e produção do comum (Sonorities of Existence: music, communication, and production of the common), Salles completed his Ph.D. in Communication and Culture from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

But Salles’ relationship with literature began well before university. According to Ludemir, it all began when Salles fell sick with tuberculosis as a child and his mother brought him a copy of Machado de Assis’ The Alienist. By age 14, he had devoured all of Assis’ romances.

Born in Olaria, a North Zone suburban neighborhood located “on the edge of Complexo do Alemão,” as he would say, Salles now enters into the history of Brazilian literature as one of the principal drivers of the peripheral literature scene, working to democratize literary culture. In his final months, Salles worked on the biography of Pai Santana (1932 – 2011), a legendary masseur for the Vasco da Gama soccer club, Salles’ favorite team. He also sat on the board of the Universidade das Quebradas, and curated the Coleção Tramas Urbanas (Urban Plots Collection) anthology, giving immediate visibility to a host of peripheral authors, and doing so at a moment when, Ludemir notes, the question of urban peripheries was not yet being discussed. It would not be until after the socially affirmative policies of the government of President Lula da Silva that the peripheries would gain robust conversation. FLUP, also co-founded with Ludemir, stands out as one of Salles’ central legacies for the peripheries in the literary world.

The Periphery’s Legacy for the Country

“There already existed [literary] production in the periphery but these people did not have much visibility in channels of publication. In discourse, they were even rarer. The FLUP helped to give visibility, to show that there already existed a potent literary scene in the periphery and, beyond that, it showed many people that—people who may have been unsure whether what was being written was literature, if it was quality or not—that yes, it was indeed literature,” says Rôssi Alves, professor at UFF. “Ecio and Julio are etched into the history of literature of the periphery, of expression for marginalized and invisibilized segments. Today, some authors work with major publishers, some don’t, but they are happy, selling their books and participating in debates and training other readers, helping in this educational process for a group that is no longer content with the mere right to consume literature, but wants to produce it as well.”

FLUP gave rise to authors like Ana Paula Lisboa and Geovani Martins, who today are columnists for the Globo newspaper; Jesse Andarilho, the first FLUP writer to have a book out by a major publisher; the Sarauzeiras Oniricas poetry group, and so many others. According to Romulo Narducci, a member of the Ciclo de Narrativas Curtas and organizer of the poetry meeting known as Uma Noite na Taverna (One Night at the Tavern) in São Gonçalo, a city located across Rio’s Guanabara Bay, FLUP “redrew the map of Rio de Janeiro, besides changing the way that the periphery is seen.” For Narducci, “the periphery was seen as the outside, something exotic, and after FLUP, the periphery gained a real positive voice. FLUP showed that the periphery is capable, and that it has the potential to create first-class artistic and literary content.”

Andreza Jorge, a resident of the favelas of Maré near the city’s international airport, was one of the writers featured in the book Seis temas à procura de um poema (Six Themes in Search of a Poem), launched by FLUP in 2017. Jorge participated in FLUP Poetry and says that the experience strengthened her writing. “My own experience and insertion in this universe of FLUP, dreamt up by Ecio and Julio, showed me the power of this work,” says Jorge. “Everything that we read, obviously, is born from the life experience of the person who wrote it. There exists this idea of universality, as though the experience of the writer were that of the norm, of a normative experience. Then we end up feeling excluded because this signals that experience as the correct one. So when you have the possibility to write and to be recognized as a great writer, of writing something great through the perspective of your own experience, in my case, as a black woman from the favelas, this is such a bold move in the literary scene. In this sense, Ecio was always at the front, thinking about these issues, because the concept of universality in artistic production is not just a given. We have to work harder and harder to teach people that.”

For Ruffino, a resident of Greater Rio’s Baixada Fluminense, Salles’ and FLUP’s major impact is to have “revived the legacy of Carolina de Jesus, redefining the culture and literature produced by those that are made invisible by the literary canon and by the status quo. It’s to have made it known that in the hills, in the favela, in the West Zone, and in the Baixada, hearts beat, and blood flows. [This life] too has the capacity to turn into verses and narratives.” Ruffino added: “Without Ecio, there is this huge vacuum. In our culture and in our hearts.”

Ludemir brings up that Salles was a diplomat and a theorist, and a born teacher. “Ecio was always a diplomat, [he] didn’t fight with people, he liked to talk. And he was great at finding supporters for FLUP.” Adair Rocha, Professor of Communication at Rio’s Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-Rio), echoed this as characteristic of Salles. “Ecio was, in his historic dimension, a masterful tailor. He knew how to stitch together the diverse, plural, and potent figures of marginal, peripheral literary art. That was his strength.”

Ecio Salles suffered from lung cancer, and died at age 50, on the afternoon of July 22, 2019. Tonight, Monday, July 29, at 7:00 PM, a seventh-day memorial commemoration will take place at the Circo Crescer e Viver, in the neighborhood of Cidade Nova.

Miriane Peregrino is a researcher, community journalist, and teacher with a Master’s Degree in literature from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). In 2013, she created the Literatura Comunica! (“Literature Speaks!”) literacy project, which is active in schools, community libraries, and cultural centers. Born in the interior of Rio state, she has worked in Maré since 2013.