Top Brazilian writer in residence at Massey

Brazilian novelist and poet Adriana Lisboa is now based at Massey University

Award-winning Brazilian fiction writer Adriana Lisboa is used to noisy, big cities – Rio de Janiero, Los Angeles, Chicago. So, living in Palmerston North, where she is an Honorary Research Associate at Massey University, is a contrast to the frenetic pace of life synonymous with her former habitats.

She says she appreciates the silence, especially as she is working on her next novel while adapting to her new environment in the Manawatū.

Her presence here is the result of a new raft of academic collaborations – spearheaded by the School of Humanities – with several Brazilian universities and organisations. The aim is to nurture cultural, education and trade links with the Latin American economic giant. Plans are underway to introduce a minor in Portuguese (Brazil’s official language) in Massey’s languages programme in 2019.

Ms Lisboa – the author of six novels including Symphony in White, which won the prestigious José Saramago Award, and Crow Blue, named a book of the year by The Independent (London) – will launch a series of cultural events organised by Massey and the Brazilian Embassy in Wellington this Thursday with readings from her works.

Born in Rio da Janeiro in 1970, her other novels include Hut of Fallen Persimmons, as well as a poetry collection Parte da Paisagem (Part of the Landscape), and several children’s books. Her work has been translated and published in more than 20 countries.

She has a Master of Arts in Brazilian Literature and a PhD in Comparative Literature from Rio de Janeiro State University; was a visiting scholar at Nichibunken (the International Research Center for Japanese Studies) in Kyoto, at the University of Texas, Austin, and at the University of New Mexico; as well as writer-in-residence at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Chicago.

Life in a smaller country offers a dramatic yet welcome contrast, she says. The silence, for example. And driving in Northland when she arrived in the summer, she noticed “the lack of visual pollution you find in the United States, with billboards across the landscape everywhere.” 

While few New Zealanders are aware of Brazilian authors – apart from Paulo Coehlo (and his best-selling 1984 novel The Alchemist) – Ms Lisboa is well-acquainted with New Zealand writers. She has translated Eleanor Catton’s first novel The Rehearsal into Portuguese, as well as a new translation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, novels by American writer Cormac McCarthy and the poetry of Canadian writer Margaret Atwood.

Bringing Brazilian culture to NZ

Head of the School of Humanities Associate Professor Kerry Taylor says the school is “delighted” to be working in collaboration with the Brazilian embassy on the new series.

“We are now working very closely with the embassy on a range of bilateral issues and also with the broader group of Latin American Embassies,” he says.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which his school is part of, has now signed, or is about to sign, agreements with the four top universities in Brazil: University of Sao Paulo, University of Campinas, the Federal University of Rio and the State University of Sao Paulo.

“These agreements have a range of manifestations, including research on indigenous language revitalisation, collaboration in the development of a Portuguese language programme at Massey University, exchange of staff and student mobility.”

Dr Taylor says Brazil is one of the most important and exciting places for collaboration in Latin America, “not just because of its size and economic vigour, but because the Kiwi and Brazilian cultures share many characteristics, especially a shared colonial heritage, a love of ball sports, a relatively relaxed and easy-going temperamen, and, at our best, a high tolerance of ethnic difference”.

Brazil’s ambassador to New Zealand Paulo Camargo says the embassy is “happy to co-sponsor the series with Massey University, as both institutions are seeking to spread the word about Brazilian culture, language and society in Aotearoa".

Upcoming talks include Massey linguistics expert Professor Peter Petrucci (on Okinawan migration to Brazil), and two visiting scholars in September and October talking about indigenous issues.

Read more on Ms Lisboa’s website here.

Event: Brazilian author Adriana Lisboa reading (in English)

When: 3 August 2017: 6pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
Where: Embassy of Brazil (Level 13, 10 Customhouse Quay, Wellington)

Please note: Booking is essential, by e-mail: or phone (04) 4733521 or by clicking here.

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