March 8, 2024

By Catarina Lins Oliveira and Tatiane França Rangel
Revised by Dylan Blau Edelstein

Last Thursday, March 7th, could have been just another day in the life of historian and anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, if not for the fact that by the day's end, she had become immortal. Elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters (ABL), Professor Schwarcz attained the "immortality" symbolically granted to those selected to join the institution, becoming the 11th woman to gain such status since ABL's creation in 1897 by the great writer Machado de Assis.

Eighty years after the creation of the institution, in 1977, Rachel de Queiroz was the first woman to break into this men's club. At that moment, critic Heloisa Teixeira (then Buarque de Hollanda) wrote about the long debate over the institution's inclusion of women: it was such an extraordinary occurrence that even the necessity of creating a feminine alternative to the traditional uniform worn by the "immortals" became a dilemma, with suggestions for the new member's attire ranging from Japanese kimonos and bullfighters' clothes to nun’s habits.

Lilia Schwarzc and Victoria de los Santos

Photo taken by Pedro Meira Monteiro

However, clothing was certainly not the sole challenge ABL members have faced over the years. The increasingly diverse profiles of its recent additions and candidates suggest that ABL is finally - albeit slowly - moving towards meaningful change. Ailton Krenak, appointed last year to the institution, became the first Indigenous person to join. Over the last few years, there have also been multiple popular campaigns in support of writer Conceição Evaristo, who would be the first Black woman to join the ABL. Professor Schwarcz has now become the 5th woman out of the 40 academics who currently serve on the ABL.

Schwarcz has been a Global Scholar and is a permanent Visiting Professor at Princeton and Professor at the University of São Paulo. In addition to her roles as a professor and researcher, she has published over 30 books, mostly addressing racial issues, such as Retrato em Branco e Negro (1987); Espetáculo das Raças (1993), winner of the APCA Award; As Barbas do Imperador (1998) and O Sol do Brasil (2008), both Jabuti Prize winners. In her groundbreaking project Enciclopédia Negra, a comprehensive compendium highlighting the historical and cultural contributions of Black Brazilians, Schwarcz worked with Jaime Lauriano and Flávio dos Santos Gomes to bring to light the often-overlooked narratives and achievements of Black people in Brazilian history. This book was discussed in depth in the Seminar "Black Modernisms", taught by Professor Schwarcz and Prof. Pedro Meira Monteiro

Lilia Schwarzc showing something on a table to 5 students who are looking on

Photo taken by Pedro Meira Monteiro

at Princeton in Spring 2022. This semester, Professor Schwarcz is co-teaching the Seminar "Race in Brazil: Whiteness and Blackness" with Professor Rafael Cesar.

The news of her election to ABL has filled our hearts with joy in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, and it will be a privilege to have an immortal walking our hallways (although her legendary status in our lives does not depend on any titles). Beyond the impressive awards, titles, and now, immortality, students frequently laud her brilliant mentorship, warmth, and generosity. "Lili," as we affectionately call her, exemplifies how to be rigorously and critically engaged while also being a generous and empathetic human being.

Long live Professor Schwarcz! Long live Lili!