@pretomath3us, criptopoema, 2016.

Do Not Write Hidden:  School, Literature, and Adolescence

Joyce Maravilha & Luiz Guilherme Ribeiro Barbosa

In 2019, Joyce Maravilha, a high school student at Colégio Pedro II, a public school in Rio de Janeiro, wrote the short story “Mystery at School”, under the guidance of her Portuguese teacher, Luiz Guilherme Ribeiro Barbosa. This experience of literary writing began with an encounter between readers: the student herself as a lover of police narratives, familiar with the work of Agatha Christie; the teacher, remembering his relationship with the books of Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. After choosing, based on synopses, a police novel by Garcia-Roza to be read in tandem and reading it, Joyce elaborated a mapping of the characters and spaces for her narrative. As a teacher, I was interested in introducing the elaboration of style in the text. We investigated how what usually is hidden appeared – the process of writing, writing in adolescence, reading/writing literature at school. This is the theme par excellence of police narratives: the murderer was always there, in front of the reader, like the stolen letter, in front of the police.


“I also knew that in the bathroom he would be urinating so that the jet of urine would hit the porcelain and not the water, so as not to disturb her”, reads one of the first phrases of Céu de origamis [Origami Sky] a narrative published in 2009 by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza.¹ We do not yet know who she is, who he is, but we realize it is about a couple, we realize that she knows details of eschatology and care for her husband, and that the routine scene is narrated because it foreshadows that something has gone wrong. Suddenly, the husband did not return home at the end of the workday, the wife is giving evidence at the police station, and we still do not know what happened. Together with Joyce, we think that there is a relationship between the narrative and the style: the disappearance of the husband is foreshadowed in indeterminate elements of the sentences, as if composing an “atmosphere”, but mainly as an ethics of writing. The image of urine in the vessel is exacting. But, who is she? Where is he? Where did the routine go?


I met Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza when I was a literature undergraduate. It was in 2006 or 2007. With a group of colleagues, we went to interview him in his office, in a building opposite the Academia Brasileira de Letras, in downtown Rio de Janeiro. On the shelves there were mainly books by the writer himself, published in different languages ​​around the world. The view of Botafogo and Pão de Açúcar were for me city clichés, what surprised me though was mainly the amount of newspapers. I remember asking the writer about it and him replying that he subscribed to several newspapers. It was where he found ideas for his stories, where, according to him, narrative material resides. Although the [Rio de Janeiro] Copacabana neighborhood appears as a constant space where his characters live, and this neighborhood, with its crimes, stands for the effects of the modern utopia that the Zona Sul [South Zone] of Rio de Janeiro would symbolize for Brazil from the 1950s onward – the writer considered that it was in the daily news and police reports where the stories were hidden.  Narratives taken from a newspaper story became criminal textual material, or rather, textual material shaped by crimes, a treasure trove of obscenities.


Back to the school. The proposal was for Joyce to imagine a short, police-style narrative to take place in the context of the school. However, assuming the place of the writer is usually not a simple operation. Not so much that this makes evident the difference between reading and writing, but rather that writing with the publication of what you write in mind changes the relationship with the text itself. After a first draft was prepared, other teachers at the school would consider Joyce’s story before it was to be published in leaflet form and circulated among the school community. So here, the student would have a publishing experience in which she would be recognized as an author. This school text would not be [solely] destined for the teacher’s reading – a silent and solitary, specifically interested reading and in general a kind of secret, a pact between the adult and a teenager.

However, before the text was to be published and disseminated at the school, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza published what was to be his last book. A última mulher [The Last Woman] appeared in bookstores in mid-2019 and received a series of press reports noting the detoriation of the author’s health, at the time bedridden. Among the articles, one from the newspaper O Globo got our attention, given that we were interested in the work of the writer and also in the places that a writer occupies in culture. For this reason, we responded to the report with an e-mail written together, which was published in the “Letters from Readers” section of the July 9, 2019 edition of the newspaper O Globo.

Letters from Readers, July 9, 2019, O Globo.

With my school research scholarship, I learned to sit and write, even without inspiration, and I also learned to stop everything when inspiration came to write. I started to think about the story even when I was not writing, in my daily life. That the story takes place in the neighborhood and at the school where I study helped a lot in this. I could see my characters in the places I frequented, doing the same things that I did every day, as if they were real students in the same environment as me.

I remember one day when I was in the school library studying, and I started to imagine what would happen if they came in at that moment. And I started to write two whole pages by hand. It was a great feeling. I think that being able to do all this made me mature a lot as a writer.

I also learned a lot thanks to my teacher’s guidance. It was very important to see my story through someone else’s eyes, both to write better and to learn more about my own style, to perceive patterns and elements in my writing that I would not have perceived alone if someone did not point them out or ask me about it.

After all, it was the first time that I saw myself as a writer. I had always dreamed of being one, but when I was younger and wrote, I never considered myself one. It was only during this experience that I started to take this more seriously. I think having the courage to show what I wrote to other people was also important to this process; it made me believe in myself more.


During the convalescence of Luiz Alfredo, the writer Livia Garcia-Roza, his companion, published on Facebook a series of brief narratives and reflections that we referred to in the letter we sent to the newspaper O Globo. Livia’s work evoked their love story and reflected on the process of suffering in the face of the impending loss of her partner. They are texts of intense delicacy, which I followed closely, but rarely presented to Joyce.

One day, however, one of the writer’s posts seemed to touch on a point in Joyce’s work. It turns out that, when writing her short story, the student set up a narrative imagining the disappearance of a foreign language teacher at school. Was she dealing with some kind of mourning? She was imitating the police genre and reflecting gender narratives in the school context. But why the teacher?

Then, I proposed what was in my view a curious explanation: when imagining the mysterious disappearance of a teacher, the writer Joyce Maravilha would, in short, be rehearsing an absence soon to be experienced by her as a teenager: the end of school. In this sense, imagining the disappearance of a teacher implies considering the disappearance of school in adolescent life, in such a way that fiction can function as a space for maturation, as well as a testament to cultural education. An act to which one can always return throughout life.

At the bedside of Luiz Alfredo on a daily basis, his companion in the impossibility of talking to her husband, but not for this reason, silences everyday life. She writes: “So much to tell Luiz Alfredo… I told the nurses.”² There is an ambiguity in this gesture. Diverting the addressee from her words stems from the impossibility of talking to her husband, but insisting on these words for those who also took care of him implies continuing with interrupted conversation.

In literature – and consideranding that the two sentences published by Livia Garcia-Roza on social networks are literature – hidden affections can be diverted to words, and then they become the text.


Literature can still shed light on the education of an adolescent. Even though it has lost the cultural centrality it enjoyed in European culture 100 or 200 years ago, literature functions as a collection of sources for pop culture. More than that, the difficulty of prolonged concentration experienced in reading long texts, the effect of the constant semiotic artillery on the screens of cell phones, television, and computers, calls on the classroom to be a space for reinventing the reflective reading of novels and books in general.

Exposure to the screens of the “machines of magination” tends to produce another relationship between the subject and fiction.³ Photographic lenses, unlike the human eye, do not distinguish between what is perceived and what is represented. This “psychotizing tendency” of technical imagination seems to be at the origin of the “culture of attention deficit” that characterizes contemporary modes of perception, of which the general states of anxiety and depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are symptoms.

In this context, literature appears as resistance to the erosion of long-term attention, reflective concentration, silent reading. As a means of facing this cultural risk, pedagogical practices seek to stick to subjective readings of students in the classroom, especially in the sense of promoting conditions in which speaking and writing about reading means elaborating the reader’s affections about the text. Fiction work at school, especially when learner readers are invited to write about the reading or write fiction itself, can act toward the production of a community that learns to recognize “when the subjective configurations of the reader are questioned by the text”, as proposed by Vincent Jouve. 4 However, when it comes to the texts written by the students, the teacher-reader should be prepared to be questioned by the text.


The figure of the teacher is not explored in many stories. At least in the books that I have read and that take place in the school environment, everything always revolves around students. We who are students generally do not stop to think that teachers also have a life beyond their profession. It was fun to imagine Pedro’s life, together with the characters. It was kind of a mystery to me, too, at first. Thinking of a real reason why he disappeared, and several other “fictional” ones to deceive the characters and the reader was cool as well as creating a personal life for him, a family, an address, a personality. I think it has a very different effect to that of a missing student. When we see a news story like this on the internet, about a teenager, people are already thinking about some possibilities: fought with their parents, went to meet a boyfriend, went to a party. A teacher who disappears, without any warning, for no apparent reason, is a little more curious.


The experience of accompanying a teenage student’s literary production involves getting closer to the writer’s intimate territory. I think that this was also true for Joyce in her choice of the teacher as the principal absence in the police mystery narrative that she produced. Just as we had responded to the article in the newspaper O Globo, stirred by the effects of Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s aging, so the student responded – not without irony – to the challenge I proposed to set her narrative at the school, finding herself stirred by the figure of the teacher.

I want to say that the effect in fiction, when bringing narrative space closer to everyday life, represents, for the writer, a displacement. This is not a question of a change in perspective, since the protagonists are adolescent students, but rather that the object of this stirring up is the teacher’s daily life, an element commonly hidden in school culture. The figure of the teacher caught by students or former students in banal moments of their everyday life, whether walking on the beach or attending a party, can be an event for the teenager who does not think about the teacher as among the adults in their known universe.

In an essay dedicated to thinking about the functions of the humanities in democratic societies, Martha Nussbaum considers adolescence to be a decisive moment in the cultural formation for democracy. Schools, families, and society in general must consider the processes of social identification that an adolescent goes through as figures of society.  Meaning that these processes are representations of self and the other that decide the behavior of citizens. In this sense, “weakness” or lack should not be hidden:

As young people approach adulthood, the influence of the culture of the group to which they belong increases. The norms of a perfect adult (the perfect man, the perfect woman) have a great impact on the development process, as the consideration for others fights narcissistic insecurity and shame. If an adolescent group culture defines the “real man” as someone who has no weaknesses or needs and who controls everything he needs in life, this teaching will fuel child narcissism and strongly inhibit the expansion of compassion for women and for other people perceived as fragile or subordinate. 5

And, later on, as a lesson from this argument:

Teach attitudes in relation to human frailty and impotence that suggest that frailty is not something shameful and that needing others does not mean being weak; teach children not to be ashamed of lack and incompleteness, but to perceive them as opportunities for cooperation and reciprocity. 6

Nussbaum’s fragments teach us something about how to read the literature that students produce, an important challenge for teachers in general. It is possible that the handing in of a literary text for teachers to read means the search for recognition with respect to something the student may feel that he or she is lacking or has not been able to satisfy – hidden affections, repetition of traumas or questioning about sexuality. These are delicate traits that do not need to be undermined by literary technicality: this is not well written or I do not believe that you wrote it. What is called literature includes writing a letter to a newspaper identifying with a sick writer, what is called literature includes imagining the life of the other, and what is called literature includes reading the other, the teacher, even if the latter has become an important character in the lives of those characters.


In my personal life, I think that one of the effects of writing literature has been to stimulate my capacity for imagination and observation. Sometimes I find myself noticing specific habits or facts about the people I live with or even strangers at the mall, and I think: “that would be a great trait for a character”. I also keep in mind certain places I visit so that I can use them as scenarios in the future. In addition, I also notice effects on my communication with people. Writing helps us a lot to express ourselves and to argue better.


Right at the beginning of the novel O Alienista [The Alienist] by Machado de Assis, there is an unforgettable sentence, that one of my students in the second grade of high school who read the book in 2020 highlighted. Perhaps it is a sentence that, for an adolescent reader, makes evident for the first time the narrator’s irony in the construction of characters. It is when the narrator presents the reasons why Dr. Simão Bacamarte married D. Evarista. The sentence reads:

Simão Bacamarte explained that Dona Evarista had first-rate physiological and anatomical conditions, good digestion, slept regularly, had a good pulse, and excellent eyesight; she would be thus able to give him robust, healthy, and intelligent children. 7

The doctor had chosen his wife for “physiological and anatomical” reasons.  The logics of patriarchy (the man justifies the choice of the woman as a wife for the family) and of scientific positivism (if the end of marriage is the formation of the family, then the production of children must be observed according to improvement of the species, under a eugenic perspective) are upheld. And we laugh at this caricature. We laugh nervously. This analysis, with adolescents, reveals not how a sentence should be read, but how a sentence can be read: producing relationships between text and culture. It is a reading from a historical perspective, but in and of itself it is not enough.

Re-reading the text, I considered that currently we might be going through an opposite side of the problem: during the pandemic of the new coronavirus, we can make choices according to what science advocates, in order to preserve individual and collective life. In the Assis’ sentence, the perspective of doctor Simão Bacamarte dehumanizes his wife based on the scientific knowledge of the time. A question that might arise with this interpretation: how does a layman (the reader) use scientific knowledge after reading a fiction that makes a caricature of science?

The differences between fiction and reality drive reading. They can make us fall in love beyond the fantasy of identification between reader and protagonist. Identifying with reading can mean fascination with the contradictions between fiction and reality. A process parallel to adolescence: between the child and the adult, the imagination is constantly testing reality.


I recently learned a word in Welsh that has no direct translation into any other language (and I love learning words like that). Hiraeth: longing for a place you’ve never been. And I think that perfectly describes my relationship with books. I miss being in those places. I miss the adventures at Camp Half-Blood, to go for a walk with Fani through Minas Gerais, to go to dances at Illéa’s palace. And I have never been to any of these places, except through literature. And the best part about reading literature is that I can always visit these scenarios and these people again and again.

Luiz Guilherme Barbosa thanks the psychoanalyst Isabel do Rêgo Barros Duarte for the invitation to present, at a round table with Franciele Almeida, the theme of this text as part of the free course “Psychoanalysis without margins”, coordinated by her and Ana Lúcia Holck, at the Instituto de Clínica Psicanalítica of Rio de Janeiro in September 2019.


Joyce Maravilha
Is 17 years old and is in her last year of high school at Colégio Pedro II. A reader and writer, she intends to study literature at university. She also publishes literary reviews on the instagram profile: @jovenselivros.

Luiz Guilherme Ribeiro Barbosa
Professor of Portuguese language and Literature at Colégio Pedro II. He holds a doctorate in literary theory from Universidade Federal Rio de Janerio (UFRJ). His publications include: A mão, o olho: Uma interpretação da poesia contemporânea (2014), and the poetry leaflets Postagens e antipostagens (2018) and Pacote de maldades (2019). He is part of the research group Litescola (CPII), on literature and teaching.

1 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Céu de origamis (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2009) p. 7.

2 Livia Garcia-Roza, So much to tell … Rio de Janeiro, July 19, 2019. Facebook: Facebook user. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=939021886438993&id=100009935705436. Accessed on: 5 fev. 2021.

3 The expressions mentioned in this paragraph are from: Christophe Türcke. Cultura do déficit de atenção. Translation by Eduardo Guerreiro B. Losso, Serrote blog, Rio de Janeiro, Jun., 2015. Available at: https://www.revistaserrote.com.br/2015/06/cultura-do-deficit-de-atencao. Accessed on September 24, 2019.

4 Vincent Jouve, A leitura como retorno a si: sobre o interesse pedagógico das leituras subjetivas. Translation by Neide Luiza de Rezende. In: Annie Rouxel et al eds., Leitura subjetiva e ensino de literatura, Translation by Amaury C. Moraes et al (São Paulo: Alameda, 2013) p. 60.

5 Martha Nussbaum, Sem fins lucrativos: Por que a democracia precisa das humanidades, Translation Fernando Santos (São Paulo: WMF Martins Fontes, 2015) p.39.

6 Idem, p. 45.

7 Machado de Assis, Papéis avulsos (Belo Horizonte; Rio de Janeiro: Garnier, 1989) p. 17-18.