Jesus, Carolinamaria de (1914–1977)

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Jesus, Carolinamaria de (1914–1977)

Carolina Maria de Jesus (b. 1914; d. 1977), Brazilian writer. A fiercely proud black woman, Jesus spent most of her life in obscurity, raising her three children in São Paulo's Canindé Favela, and supporting herself and them by scavenging paper. Her diary, published in 1960 through the help of journalist Audálio Dantas, who discovered her accidentally, made her an overnight sensation. It described the misery of favela life and expressed her thirst to escape it and provide a better life for her children. Within a year, it had become Brazil's all-time best-selling book, and it ultimately was translated into thirteen languages and sold in forty countries. But her fame and fortune did not last. She moved out of the favela into a house in a middle-class neighborhood, where she was rejected by her new neighbors; she spent much of the money she received unwisely, giving large sums away to needy people she hardly knew; and because she was unwilling to control her outspokenness, she alienated the members of the elite for whom she had been fashionably chic. Even at the height of her fame, most Brazilians never took Jesus seriously. The Left rejected her because she did not speak out against the exploitation of the poor. The literary establishment rejected her writing as childlike; indeed, she enjoyed a much more positive reputation outside of Brazil, where her book was called "one of the most astonishing documents of the lower-class depths ever printed."

All of Jesus's subsequent books lost money, so that within a few years of her exceptional success, she was forced to move out of her house with her children. She became a recluse in a distant semirural district. Times were so hard for her that she had to walk back to the city to scavenge for refuse, and her family again suffered hunger. She died at the age of sixty-three, so poor that her children had to ask for charity to bury her. Her diary, translated into English as Child of the Dark, was still in print in many foreign countries, although it had been largely forgotten in Brazil.

See alsoBrazil: Literature; Favela.


Carolina Maria De Jesus, Child of the Dark, translated by David St. Clair (1962).

Robert M. Levine and José Carlos Bom Meihy, The Life and Death of Carolina Maria de Jesus (1995).

Additional Bibliography

Feracho, Lesley. "Transgressive Acts: Race, Gender, and Class in the Poetry of Carolina Maria de Jesus and Miriam Alves." Afro-Hispanic Review 18:1 (Spring 1999): 38-45.

Ferreira, Débora R.S. "Na obra de Carolina Maria de Jesus, um Brasil esquecido." Luso-Brazilian Review 39:1 (Summer 2002): 103-119.

Jesus, Carolina Maria de. I'm Going to Have a Little House: The Second Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

                                        Robert M. Levine