This year’s the Balham Literary Festival hosts a critically-acclaimed young author raised in the area.
Yara Rodrigues Fowler, 26, released her debut novel The Stubborn Archivist in February.
She wrote the book while working for a communications agency and will discuss it, alongside her editor Rhiannon Smith, at Balham Oxfam on Thursday 13 June.
Yara said: “I’m so excited to take part, the festival is literally round the corner from where I grew up.
“It’s really special to be in conversation with my editor who did an amazing job and hopefully I’ll get to ask her lots of great questions.”
The Stubborn Archivist follows an unnamed British-Brazilian woman in Tooting, navigating adulthood after a traumatising sexual attack.
“It’s a book for survivors of sexual violence, it’s not a book that’s trying to convince people that sexual violence is bad,” said Yara.
“Survivors are the primary readers and that’s why it holds back a lot – it doesn’t have graphic descriptions,” she said.
With sparse text and relatively big font, the experimental novel spans just 362 pages and yet this highly readable book packs in plenty of content.
“It’s quite interesting, I wrote the book before Dilma Rouseff, the Brazilian president, was impeached and edited it after Brexit and Trump’s election.
“Sometimes I look back and think there’s not enough political urgency in it, but it does contain complex ideas about the hyper-sexualisation of Brazilian women.”
Yara wrote the novel before the MeToo movement was conceived and thinks its subsequent arrival has influenced how readers view her work.
EXCITED: Yara is looking forward to attending the festival, as well as watching other authors speak. Photo credit: Atri Banerjee.
“‘Consent’ was perceived as jargon when I was writing and it’s awkward to have jargon in a literary text, but in the last couple of years the word has become mainstream and I think lots and lots of people have started questioning if there was consent in an act.”
The book’s unconventional form, which often appears more like poetry than prose, adds to the protagonist’s overwhelming sense of pain.
Yara said it would have felt disingenuous to write about trauma with traditional, realist methods.
Instead, the protagonist’s thoughts are sporadic and spaced out – encapsulating her fragmented memories and emphasising trauma’s stubborn nature.
“The book’s title is a phrase used in the text,” said Yara. “It’s in the first chapter when the protagonist is sort of unsure of what’s being said and is in dialogue with herself.
“She’s then described as a stubborn archivist, she’s holding stuff back – but it’s also a sort of ironic joke for me.”
With glowing reviews from critics and authors alike, it’s hardly surprising that Yara has been nominated for the prestigious Desmond Elliott Prize and named one of the year’s best debut novelists by The Observer.
This response was unanticipated by Yara, who feared The Stubborn Archivist might never get published.
“The form is very unconventional and it’s more akin to stuff being done in the USA than in the UK,” she said.
“So much of what I studied in my English degree was realism in literature and I was really drawn to the work of black American writers who had disrupted the realist form to talk about trauma – writers like Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.”
This stylistic gamble paid off and The Stubborn Archivist has been well received by readers.
Yara said: “When the book came out, I got loads of Facebook messages from people I went to school with saying they’d seen it or read it, and things like ‘omg you mentioned that house party in the book’.
“And that’s been cool, to have a localised response – it’s nice that people recognise the places you’ve written about.”
And while Yara is excited to see several of the festival’s other speakers, including Sara Collins, Bernardine Evaristo and Max Porter, ‘flying the flag for prose poetry’, she’s also excited to attend an event with a strong community ethos.
“I think it’s great to have a local festival that’s being covered by local press,” she said.
“Although Tooting is where she lives in the book, I grew up in Balham but it is so gentrified now I didn’t want to put it in my book.
“The secondhand book shop that had been there most of my life is now an estate agents.”
The Stubborn Archivist is released in the US in July but a Brazilian publication date is yet to be confirmed.
The Balham Literary festival runs from 13-25 June at multiple venues, with tickets available on EventBrite.