Add to researchYvvette Edwards blogs from FLUPP

Author Yvvette Edwards shares her impressions of Rio's first ever literary festival

Flupp took place between 7 and 11 November in Rio, at the Morro dos Prazeres community. The partnership with the British Council resulted in the participation of three British authors in the event: Yvvette Edwards, Kei Miller and Naomi Alderman. Here, Kei Miller blogs about his experience.

Months ago, when I first told my friends I'd been invited to attend FLUPP, Rio's first ever literary festival, and also the first to be hosted in a favela, they told me I had to be mistaken, no way would anyone hold a literary festival in a favela. In fact, they assured me, the one place you needed to ensure you did not go in Brazil, even by accident - especially by accident! - was into the favelas. The favelas. Extreme poverty. Violence. Drugs. Gangs. Murders. It was inconceivable that anyone would dream of having a literary festival there.

From the moment I exited the airport and sat back inside the air conditioned cab, taking in Rio de Janeiro on the drive to my hotel, it was apparent that this was a city of extremes. There were city sky scraper buildings encased in corporate steel and glass, between them, wasteland with human beings, kids, sows, foraging through waste. We passed incredibly beautiful palms and banana and mango trees, ornate churches and cathedrals, pristine and freshly painted colonial palaces and stately homes, and between them, wretched people sleeping rough with filthy bags that looked as if they contained every worldly good the person owned. Smartly dressed people, beautiful people, a kaleidoscope of every mix raced person imaginable, each hue represented at every point on the scale. Dilapidated buildings between immaculately presented ones; bars, clubs, restaurants, people eating and drinking and spending, while on the periphery and constant, disabled, pregnant, addicted, professional, persistent beggars, arms outstretched, palms facing upwards in a parody of Christ the Redeemer, one of the new seven wonders of the world, that sits on high, visible from almost every point in Rio, watching - I imagine not entirely serenely - over the people in the city splayed below.

My event was held on the day I arrived. We drove up to Morro Dos Prazeres in Santa Teresa, previously a favela, recently pacified by the military police, now a 'community', traction screeching as the vehicle ascended the steep cobbled streets, to the higgledly piggledly collection of dwellings that constitute the homes of Rio's poor, and the sports hall where FLUPP was being held. Over and over people, journalists, asked me what I thought of Rio, and it seemed inadequate to state the truth, that I'd really only just arrived and was already feeling completely overwhelmed.

And so, first impressions of the 'community', an ex-favela; similar to any large council estate in the UK. Lots of kinda cool-looking young people hanging out, chatting in groups, whiling away time.  Differences; the police presence, like Notting Hill Carnival 1976, too much, too obvious, and armed. It should have made me feel more secure, instead it worried me more than the actual environment I found myself in. Beautiful kids. Lots of them. Young girls with incredible skins and bodies that made me afraid, as a woman, as a mother, for their future. A clean space. One of the visiting poets joked that the community was cleaner than Lapa, where our hotel was, where rubbish was heaped on street corners, where alongside pedestrians, the occasional cockroach strode.

I was surprised to find a high number of young boys in the audience, teenage boys from the community, wearing headphones. I thought they were listening to their iPods initially, but they don't have iPods. They were listening to ignorant writers like me who had failed in advance to become fluent in Portuguese, so wore headphones to listen to the real-time translation. Why did it surprise me so much that there were so many boys and actually, hardly any young girls? Because I'd accepted the theories that said boys are worse at literature, boys are less interested in stories than girls are. Yet these youths were not just bums on seats statistics. They were engaged. They were listening. They laughed at the racy parts of the excerpt I read to them from A Cupboard Full of Coats, in the right places. They were paying attention.

In advance of my visit, I wanted to read novels by Brazilian authors. On-line, I found few that had been translated into English, and not a single author from the ex-favelas. It wasn't really till after my event that I realised what a momentous occasion I'd participated in. This wasn't a regular event, the types I am familiar with, with audiences who are interested in literature and have access to books. I was participating in something monumental, in a literary festival based within a community, a segment of Brazilian society that is completely excluded from literature. People who have only had legitimate electricity in their neighbourhood during the last year.  People whose lives are dominated by the need to get by, to keep their children alive and safe and healthy, to meet their day to day needs, people who must have incredible stories to tell, who up until now, have had no vehicle to facilitate this.  I recognised that the FLUPP festival was a step in the right direction towards this.  It was clear that the vision behind FLUPP, the event itself, was late for so many, but so desperately vital, so necessary now.  And I felt incredibly honoured to have been able to play a part in it. So moved.

Yvvette Edwards, 2012

For more images from the event, check out our Facebook page.