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First English book launch for Beatriz Nascimento held at Cambridge’s Latin American centre





The University of Cambridge hosted the launch of a new book translating the prolific writing of Brazilian activist and academic Beatriz Nascimento into English for the first time.

The book – The Dialectic Is in the Sea: The Black Radical Thought of Beatriz Nascimento (Princeton University Press) – is a collection of essays by the late poet, historian, artist, and political leader. It was unveiled at the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Latin American Studies, with two of the three co-translators and editors present.

Book launch of The Dialectic Is in the Sea at the Department of Politics and International Studies, from left Archie Davies, Dr Maite Conde and Christen Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell
Book launch of The Dialectic Is in the Sea at the Department of Politics and International Studies, from left Archie Davies, Dr Maite Conde and Christen Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell

The co-translators were Archie Davies, lecturer in geography and fellow of the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University, London; and Christen Smith, director for the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, and associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Anthropology at the University of Texas. The third translator and editor, Bethânia Gomes – Beatriz Nascimento’s only daughter – remained in the US due to other commitments.

The event was hosted by Prof Maite Conde, a fellow of Jesus College and professor in Brazilian Studies and Visual Culture at the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages’ department of Spanish and Portuguese.

The homage to the Brazilian black movement’s avant garde political innovator, born in 1942 and murdered in 1995, is a collection put together and translated by Christen, Archie, and Bethânia.

Nascimento’s legacy is both intimidating and inspiring: she hugely impacted international scholarship on black women, “calling into question their invisibility because of patriarchy and colonialism”. In addition, her writing included poetry, celebrations of traditional ancestral practices, and reflections and insights on spirituality, politics and history.

Beatriz Nascimento. Picture: Personal archive of Bethânia Gomes
Beatriz Nascimento. Picture: Personal archive of Bethânia Gomes

In her preface to the book, Bethania pays tribute to the editors/translators, calling Christen “my soul sister in Washington DC” and thanking Archie who “with bravery, translated my mother’s work with patience and care”.

Anthropologist Christen came across Beatriz Nascimento’s oeuvre while doing research fieldwork in Brazil, and she made contact with Bethânia “after falling in love” with her mother’s work. Archie, a geographer, first came across Nascimento’s work through the writing of Christen and the Brazilian geographer Alex Ratts. In 2018 Christen, Archie and Bethânia started working together to translate Beatriz Nascimento’s work into English for the first time, and the collaboration has flourished.

“We have included a wide range of writing in the book,” Archie informed the Cambridge Independent after consulting with Christen and Bethânia, “to reflect Beatriz Nascimento’s prolific and varied career.

“Some of the essays were published in her lifetime and some remained unpublished, and we found them in her archive, which Bethânia has donated to the Brazilian National Archive. We have tried to give a sense of the different ways in which she wrote, which moved from the academic to the highly personal, and the collection provides an overview of the whole of her writing career.”

Bethânia Gomes, daughter of Beatriz Nascimento. Picture: Michael Jackson Junior
Bethânia Gomes, daughter of Beatriz Nascimento. Picture: Michael Jackson Junior

He added: “For each of us it was a different kind of process of discovery. Although we were all extremely familiar with her writing before we set out on the project, translation is a very deep form of reading, so new insights emerged in the process, and continue to do so as we talk about the book at events such as the one in Cambridge.

“We are continually finding new kinds of subtlety in her writing, and in the precision of her tone: she has an amazing range of inflection and nuance in her political writing.”

One of the key challenges in the translation process was the fact that Nascimento identified patriarchy and colonialism as holding back black women, and part of this lack of progress was due to an over-emphasis on the English-speaking diaspora among academics and the language barriers to intellectual discourse among non-Anglo scholars.

The authors identified this challenge, saying: “For each of us it was a different kind of process of discovery. Although we were all extremely familiar with her writing before we set out on the project, translation is a very deep form of reading, so new insights emerged in the process, and continue to do so as we talk about the book at events such as the one in Cambridge.

“We are continually finding new kinds of subtlety in her writing, and in the precision of her tone: she has an amazing range of inflection and nuance in her political writing.”

Book launch of The Dialectic Is in the Sea at the Department of Politics and International Studies, from left Archie Davies, Dr Maite Conde and Christen Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell
Book launch of The Dialectic Is in the Sea at the Department of Politics and International Studies, from left Archie Davies, Dr Maite Conde and Christen Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell

Reading extracts of the book at the launch, Archie and Christen shed light on how Nascimento inspires her audience to rethink and reconsider the politics of race, gender and space in Latin America from the black female experience.

“The event went extremely well and was well attended,” said Prof Conde. “I have received emails from people who attended who said it was ‘one of the best events they have attended at the Centre’.

“The book is an important contribution to Latin American studies and more broadly to work on black history and the diaspora and, as such, it was a pleasure to host its first launch in the UK at Cambridge and to hear first hand from the translators and editors about their work and experience in putting it together.”

- The Dialectic Is in the Sea: The Black Radical Thought of Beatriz Nascimento is published by Princeton University Press, price £25.



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