Yara Monteiro kicked off day five of Afrolit Sans Frontières on Instagram Live from Alentejo, Portugal, on Friday, March 27, 2020.
Afrolit Sans Frontières is an initiative from writers of African origin curated by Zukiswa Wanner. Sixteen writers from 10 African countries are sharing their work from 15 different cities in English, French, Lingala, and Portuguese to a global virtual audience online over eight days. Since the festival started on Monday, audiences have interacted with Richard Ali Mutu in Kinshasa, Leye Adenle in London, Rémy Ngamije in Windhoek, Namibia, Hawa Jande Golakai in Monrovia, Liberia, Maaza Mengiste in Zurich, Switzerland, Mukoma Wa Ngugi in Ithaca, New York, USA, and Nozizwe Cynthia Jele in Johannesburg.
The first writer to start proceedings on Friday, March 27, was Angolan-born writer, artist, and activist Yara Monteiro. Her debut novel Essa dama bate bué! (2018) (Guerra e Paz Editores), approaches subjects such as identity, gender, colonialism and diaspora. She is a regular guest speaker at universities and events speaking about Afro-European narratives, post-memory, creativity, identities, and feminism. She holds a degree in Human Resources and has worked in the field for fifteen years.
Yara started her session by explaining about her novel Essa dama bate bué! (The Woman on Fire) which tells the story of Vitoria a young woman who was raised in Portugal and goes back to Angola to meet her mother who was a fighter in the war of liberation. She meets a general who helped her meet her mother. She read a sex scene in the novel in both English and then in Portuguese; the Portuguese version sounded even better. She then opened the session from Alentejo, Portugal to questions from those who had gathered to listen to her. Here are some highlights.
Over the next half hour or so, she spoke about a series of topics like her writing routine which works with the “social distancing” theme we are all experiencing right now. Unlike some who will write in a coffee house or bar, she needs to be solitary to get her creative juices flowing. She starts writing with images of the character she is writing and then builds them up describing the height, colour of their eyes, sexual orientation and even the birthday. She writes emotional scenes by hand, left hand, and more rudimentary aspects of the prose she is fine typing. She edits standing as she really hates that part of the process thus this keeps her mind alert.
In the novel Essa dama bate bué!, there are some parallels to her life but it is not autobiographical. The text portrays women being stronger than the male characters. She tries to show the contribution of Angolan women in the civil war and the war of independence. The book was received well in universities and from other people who read it although she also had elderly family members who were shocked at her explicit sex scenes. The English translation is not imminent but she hopes would love to have translations so that the book is available to more readers in the future.
She felt that writing from the different sections of the continent is not as connected as it could be. In Anglophone areas, you will see books in English, in Francophone areas you will see books in French and in the Lusophone area you see books in Portuguese. There is work that needs to be done by publishers and distributors to ensure these changes.
On Black people writing about LBQTI issues, she feels that the older generation still has taboos about it but the younger generation is freer.