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Finding aid for the Brazilian cordel literature collection, 1924-1990
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Brazilian cordel literature collection
    Date (inclusive): 1924-1990
    Number: 950072
    Physical Description: 4.5 linear feet (10 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The Brazilian cordel literature collection contains over 2000 pamphlets of popular literature known in Portuguese as literatura de cordel or "string literature." Traditionally, literatura de cordel is composed in verse and illustrated with woodcuts on the front cover, and it derives its name from the way it is sold suspended by a string in Brazilian open-air markets. The collection includes pamphlets published between 1924 and 1990 arranged into four series by region of publication: Center-West, Northeast, Southeast, and Undetermined. The collection inventory provides the title of each pamphlet in the collection.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in Portuguese

    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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Brazilian cordel literature collection, 1924-1990, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 950072

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1990.

    Processing History

    Rehoused upon receipt by the registrars. Processing and description by Ashley Larson in 2016 under the supervision of Kit Messick.

    Related Materials

    Cordel: xilogravura e ilustrações / Franklin Maxado, LC Call number: Z521.4 .M33 1982.
    Xilogravura popular na literatura de cordel / Jeová Franklin, Call number: 2768-094.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection consists of over 2000 cordels covering an array of subject matter, including tales of love and adventure, religious prophecies and prayers, fables and legends, and pelejas (poetic duels of verbal and musical acumen), in addition to daily news, horoscopes, and local "fofocas de futebol" (soccer gossip). Poet-reporters capture and describe major events in the history of Brazil and the world, such as the death of Tancredo Neves, popular revolt in Vicencia, Papal visits, and even the death of Elvis Presley. Contents also include political themes highlighting specific candidates, debates, popular demands, such as Afro-Brazilian rights and agrarian reform. Within the collection, there are multiple printings, editions, and variations of beloved stories. Researchers will find this collection particularly useful for the history of print literature in Brazil; its influence on other literary forms; its value as historical documentation; its value as a source of popular folklore and political attitudes; and the artistic value of its woodblock engraving and other illustrative forms.
    The cordel pamphlets are generally four by six and a half inches, however deviation in sizing occurs throughout the collection. Cordels are made of lightweight paper and can be 8, 16, 32, or 64 pages, with an occasional two- or four-page anomaly. Many of the troubadours conclude their poems with a signature in verse, or an acrostic, starting each final line with a letter from their first initial and last name. Most pamphlets feature an illustration on the front cover, typically a woodcut engraving, although it is not uncommon to see a reproduced photograph or a drawing. Often, the cover artwork is signed with the initials or family name of the highlighted artist. The back cover typically features the author's contact information, with or without a photograph, as well as advertisements from local vendors, publishers or other companies, and legal notes pertaining to the purchase and sale of the item.The collection is arranged into four series which provide the researcher access based on geographical region of publication. Series I. Center-West is the smallest of the four series, consisting of a handful of publications from 1978 to 1988. Series II. Northeast is the largest of the series, with a date range of 1924 to 1990. Series III. Southeast offers examples of the urban cordel movement, alongside traditional works, between the years 1975 and 1989. Series IV. Undetermined includes those pamphlets which could not be assigned to a region. Titles are transcribed from the cover page. Multiple copies are noted when present.


    Arranged in four series: Series I. Center-West, 1978-1988; Series II. Northeast, 1924-1990; Series III. Southeast, 1975-1989; Series IV. Undetermined, 1924-1990.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Brazilian poetry--20th century.
    Chapbooks, Brazilian
    Folk literature, Brazilian
    Folk poetry, Brazilian.
    Popular literature--Brazil.
    Wood-engraving, Brazilian

    Genres and Forms of Material



    Athayde, João Martins de
    Batista, Abraão
    Borges, J. (José), 1935-
    Cavalcante, Rodolfo Coelho, 1919-1986
    Leite, José Costa
    Maxado, Franklin de C.
    Santa Helena, Raimundo
    Soares, José, 1914-1981