Brazil’s Publishers Call Out Perceived Censorship

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

As some Brazilian schools try to remove a book published by Companhia das Letras, publishers and associations raise alarms about censorship.

At Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, on the Guaiba. A school director in Santa Cruz do Sul reportedly made a video criticizing Jeferson Tenório’s ‘O avesso da pele’ from Companhia das Letras. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Cabuscaa

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also:
Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster Flag ‘Trashed Books’ in New York City

IPA Prix Voltaire Submissions Close March 22
As Big Five publishers and publishing organizations in the States object to what may be an act of censorship at a public school in New York City, this month has also seen a case in Brazil in which publishing associations are similarly calling out censorship—in that case of Jeferson Tenório’s O avesso da pele (The Inside of the Skin), published in 2020 by Companhia das Letras.

The Brazilian Book Chamber and a number of associated organizations and institutions are saying that they see the moves in Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná against the book to be what they call “an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression, a fundamental pillar for democracy and for the development of a country.”

As reported in an editorial at the Brazilian publication PublishNews, the state of Paraná’s Curitiba Regional Education Center ordered copies of the work to be collected from public schools.

These reported events—coinciding with new commentary on the Freedom to Read and Freedom to Publish at Leipziger Buchmesse in Germany this week—are dovetailing with the closure on Friday (March 22) of the submission period for this year’s International Publishers Association (IPA) Prix Voltaire.

As we detailed in our announcement of the submissions’ opening on January 11, the IPA’s  recognition has become one of the world’s most influential in its mission to honor “exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and enabling others to exercise their freedom of expression.”

What the international book publishing industry sees in the confluence of these moments, of course, is a clear indication of how authoritarian and often censorious efforts in literature are crossing borders and aren’t confined to a single market or culture. Just as the recent uproar in France against the interior ministry’s action against a YA book from Éditions Thierry Magnier revealed, political pressures on publishing and its essential freedoms are mounting and expanding.

While the freedom to publish is—along with copyright—one of the bedrock principles of the international body, “the protection and promotion” of that freedom to publish is also one of the IPA’s central objectives, and the clear and alarming spread of authoritarian and frequently censorious efforts has accelerated.

A shortlist is anticipated from the Prix Voltaire program, which is directed at IPA by James Taylor as a project of the association’s Freedom to Publish committee led by Kristenn Einarsson. And it’s at Einarsson’s 2024 World Expression Forum (WEXF) seated at Lillehammer on May 27 and 28 that the IPA Prix Voltaire shortlist is to be named, with the announcement of the new winner being made at the IPA’s 34th International Publishers Congress in Guadalajara, December 3 through 6.

Nominations are to be submitted by email using the application form, sending it to the IPA at prix-voltaire@internationalpublishers.org.

‘Repudiate Any and All Forms of Censorship’

Meanwhile, the news being reported from Brazil about the Tenório book has a couple of reflections of the New York incident in which books noted by someone as unacceptable for classroom use were found being discarded at PS 55, an elementary school in the New York City borough of Staten Island.

Not only is the Brazilian work being called into question by educational figures—the director of a school in the city of Santa Cruz do Sul reportedly produced a g a video criticizing the book—but Companhia das Letras is a company in which Penguin Random House took a majority stake in 2018. So even as the American publishers and organizations find themselves addressing a complaint to the New York City public school system, Brazil’s publishing players are similarly aware of action in schools in both the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná.

Issuing a statement “rejecting book censorship,” PublishNews reports, are:

  • The Brazilian Book Chamber (CBL)
  • The Brazilian League of Publishers (LIBRE)
  • The National Union of Book Editors (SNEL)
  • The National Association of Bookstores (ANL)
  • The Brazilian Association of Authors of Educational Books (ABRALE)
  • The Brazilian Association of the Graphic Industry (ABIGRAF)

These companies are telling the state and city educational players involved that they, as a unified group, “repudiate any and all forms of censorship of books.”

Jeferson Tenório

PublishNews’ editorial also points out that as many as 35 million children and young people in the Brazilian market benefit from the distribution of books which “undergo a rigorous technical evaluation process which prioritizes transparency and integrity, and also for excellent editorial production. After selection from the federal program, the titles are evaluated and chosen by teachers from more than 138 thousand public schools.”

The telling point in the case of the Brazilian situation, however, lies—as in so many cultures facing efforts to ban books—is the nature of O avesso da pele.

The publisher, Companhia das Letras, describes the book as “A novel about identity and complex racial relations, about violence and blackness, a compelling work in the panorama of new Brazilian literary fiction.”

And despite its win of the literary fiction honor from the Prêmio Jabuti—considered a prestigious and traditionalist literary award in Brazil—the book is drawing efforts to suppress it in educational settings. That’s a precise parallel to the trends seen in the States and elsewhere, markets in which either sexual factors (most frequently sexuality and identity) or racial matters tend to be the flash points.

Supporting the Prix Voltaire

Having referred in this article to the IPA’s Prix Voltaire, we’d like to acknowledge once again, as we’ve done earlier this year, that the 10,000-Swiss-franc purse for that honor is provided this year by the following publishing companies:

Needless to say, many leading parts of the international book publishing map are not represented in this group of supporters, and it surely is time that publishers in the Americas, the Asian markets, the African markets, and elsewhere become involved in supporting the work that the Prix Voltaire does to expose some of the world’s best efforts—sometimes with lethal response to such bravery—to fight back against the forces of authoritarian censorship and bigotry.


More from Publishing Perspectives on issues of the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the Prix Voltaire is here, and on the International Publishers Association is here. More on the World Expression Forum, WEXFO, is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the global media partner of the International Publishers Association.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.