Alda Espírito Santopp

READ THE WORLD – São Tomé and Príncipe: Works by Alda Espírito Santopp, Tomás Medeiros, Olinda Beja, Conceição Limapp, and Albertino Bragançapp

This is where working at a university whose library boasts it has a copy of every book ever published in English, whether digitally or physically, comes in handy. This is where I found some texts for the smaller countries, or those that aren’t seen to have such a great field of literature or even if it has, it hasn’t been translated into English. Lusophone African Short Stories and Poetry after Independence: Decolonial Destinies edited and translated by Lamonte Aidoo and Daniel F. Silva brings together the works of poets, short story writers, and journalists, and charts the emergence and evolution of the national literatures of Portugal’s former African colonies, from 1975 to the present. It includes work from a variety of writers who work in different forms and genres and are from Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé e Príncipe.

Lusophone African Short Stories and Poetry after Independence contains the work of five writers from São Tomé and Príncipe: Alda Espírito Santopp, Tomás Medeiros, Olinda Beja, Conceição Limapp, and Albertino Bragançapp. Each chapter on each writer starts with an introduction which is a short biography of that writer, giving extra context to their work and the place they grew up in. As for each writer there was only one short story or at most three poems, I decided to read them all.

Reading works from multiple writers helped show that even though they were all born in the same country and are connected by a shared heritage, their individual life experiences are what helped shaped them and their work. Some aspects of their identity are universal but others are not. There are differences in things like politics and identity due to where they lived if they moved away from São Tomé and Príncipe for a time, whether as a child or an adult, and even then, there are differences between growing up in Portugal and being an adult working in London.

One of my favourite poems I read by these writers was “Vision” by Olinda Beja. It’s about identity and how things were different for her growing up in Europe compared to Africa. The first line is “They wanted to make me European” and from there talks about the things she went through in order to “fit in” like having her hair straightened and she was even encouraged to fall in love with a white man so that “it would be guaranteed to the descendants of my generation the complete amnesia of blackness”. It’s a tough poem to read but an impactful one.

A lot of the works are about heritage, identity, and their home. Though there’s no doubt extra layers to her poems I didn’t pick up on (no matter how much poetry I’ve read during my Read the World Project, I’m still not that great with it) I really enjoyed how Alda Espírito Santopp described nature. “Beyond the Beach” and “Naked Island” both paint a vivid picture of life in São Tomé and Príncipe, from the people to the ocean and the trees. They’re beautiful poems.