The first thing that strikes the attention is the way it is marketed, dangling from strings that display dozens or hundreds of pamphlets. That’s where the name stems from: literature on string. Heiress of the most remote oral tradition and both the Spanish and Portuguese ballad collection from the Middle Age –as well as the so-called blind men’s ballads– string literature arrived in Brazil in the 19th century, and while it was languishing in the Iberian Peninsula, it picked up extraordinary steam –it’s still chugging on strong today– in the South American nation’s northeast, especially in the states of Ceara, Paraaba and Pernambuco.

Made up of small notebooks of 8, 16, 24 or 32 pages each, the pamphlets collects a peculiar poetry. It’s all about narrations written by popular poets that deal with everyday life in the region, full of great historic deeds and legends with larger-than-life characters –not necessarily those who star in the huge history books. They also broach political developments, religious phenomena, chronicles of bloody crimes, versions of other books, celebrated theatrical plays and even a few high-rated soap operas.

Both the massive character of this genre and the pamphlets’ low-cost printing have allowed for the emergence of dozens of thousands of titles –only one author could perfectly write a few hundreds of them– and printouts of over 1 million copies. An indispensable part of the genre –it owes part of its allure to that– is the xylographs that decorate every cover of these books. Generally speaking, the covers are rudimentary, all of them made by famous artists who sometimes –as intuitively as the poets– have contributed to shape up the popular imagery of northeastern Brazil. It’s important to say that as part of the increasingly larger interest of the academic sectors in string literature, some Brazilian critics have admitted that the xylographs are by far the biggest contribution this part of the country has made to the nation’s fine arts.

Amidst a world seduced by modernity and technology, popular artists and poets continue the tradition of the string, thus defying the common sense of the West and holding on faithfully to a universe cherished by multitudes of people and increasingly worshipped by scholars from everywhere under the sun.