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Brazilian cordel literature collection, 1924-1990

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Brazilian cordel literature collection

Biographical / Historical Note

The Brazilian cordel literature collection contains over 2000 pamphlets of popular literature known in Portuguese as literatura de cordel ("string literature"). It derives its name from the fashion in which it was sold to passersby in Northeastern Brazil: suspended from a string in open-air markets. Migration trends to the Southeastern states after 1950 led to an influx of poets and printers who expanded the reach of the pamphlets beyond their traditional Northeastern audience. The cordel, as it is known, is an important part of Brazil's rich literary and folkloric history. Its form, typically composed in verse, originates from the ballad tradition of the Middle Ages and, much like this tradition, its original purpose was to entertain, spread news, and impart moral instruction to the populace through mass distribution. The cordel is similar to other literary forms found throughout Europe, such as the English chapbook, the French littérature de colportage, and the romanceiro from the Iberian peninsula.

The cordel continues to be a source of artistic and literary expression in Brazil. Although this literary form declined at the end of the twentieth century as other modes of entertainment ascended, authors from the Southeast such as Franklin Maxado Nordestino revitalized the cordel by introducing new topics and accommodating urban audiences. The cordel also exerts a significant amount of influence on Brazilian art, theater, music, and literature. Brazilian authors such as Jorge Amado, Ariano Saussuna, and João Cabral de Melo Neto have incorporated the celebrated literary form into their own work, and cordel stories have even been adapted for television, as in Globo's Cordel encantado and for the big screen, like Tânia Quaresma's 1975 film Nordeste: cordel, repente, canção.

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