Back cover of the book O Gamo e a Gazela

CASSANDRA RIOS

São Paulo, SP, 1932-2002

Cassandra Rios, pseudonym of Odette Pérez Ríos, was a Brazilian writer of Spanish descent. She wrote books on fiction, mystery and eroticism, which usually had lesbian couples as the main characters. She was the most persecuted and threatened author during the military dictatorship, with almost all works censored and taken out of circulation. The controversy of her name and writing made her the first Brazilian to reach the milestone of 1 million copies sold.

published on 08/26/2021

Portraits of Cassandra Rios

Odette Pérez Ríos was from Perdizes, an upper-middle class neighborhood in São Paulo. Despite being a lonely child and never wanting to form a traditional family, she married in the church at age 18. The fake union with a gay friend was a way to leave the house without shocking her parents, Graciano and Damiana, Spanish Catholic immigrants. Two years earlier, in 1948, Odette had begun to sign her texts as Cassandra, in reference to the priestess considered mad when prophesying the Trojan War. Until then, female pleasure was still very little discussed and non-straight sexualities were treated as sin, pathology or crime in Brazilian literature. However, Cassandra was determined to write what would become the first lesbian novel in the country, with large doses of eroticism and accessible vocabulary. A Volúpia do Pecado, told the love story between two teenagers and was rejected by several publishers. She ended up deciding to do it independently, with money borrowed from her mother. The book was so successful that it was republished nine times in ten years. The more she wrote, the more she was persecuted. However, the controversy surrounding the 'damned writer' was also generating profit. Even with the censorship, Cassandra became the first to sell 1 million copies, surpassing famous authors like Jorge Amado and Clarice Lispector.

Cover art of Cassandra Rios' books

Cassandra was the only woman to make a living from writing in the country, having never had another profession. With copyright money, she maintained a high standard of living: had a bookstore, cars and three houses in the state of São Paulo. She sold an average of 300,000 books a year, in Brazil and Portugal, which suggests that she accessed much more than a lesbian audience. Due to her success, the publishers she worked with, such as Record, Spiker, CBS and MM, provided legal support. For the dictatorship, publishers with books on sexuality promoted a "sexual revolution", even more threatening than the "socialist revolution" itself. More than explicit sex, it was the combination of lesbian and popular that made Cassandra dangerous. However, she did not considered herself pornographic and did not understand why eroticism was something to be fought. "Pornography is the deliberate intention to shock. It's sex for sex. In my books, sex only happens because of love, to realize it fully and without prejudice." In fact, in her books she also reflected on deep themes, such as politics, power, desire and religion. One of the characteristics of the narratives was that the characters disputed the construction of the lesbian identity, with all its contradictions, being openly contrary to morals and good patriarchal customs. Her work mixed fiction with reality and signaled a change in behavior, a historic transformation.

Portraits published in the article "Cassandra Rios: Qual o Pecado de Odete?" in Realidade Magazine, 1970

Even though it was a bestseller, Cassandra was the most pursued and taken out of circulation author in Brazil. Almost all of her 50 books were censored and burned, making them difficult to find even today. Those who got the banned copies, read the books in fear of being discovered. With the enactment of Institutional Act number 5 (AI-5), which made censorship official, police raids, arrests, coercion and lengthy statements became more common. Even as she continued to write, Cassandra became afraid of the military, becoming very reclusive and reserved, hardly leaving her home. At that time, she was very disappointed and emotionally shaken, being constantly interrogated at the DOPS (Department of Political and Social Order), book after book. On one occasion, Cassandra was arrested and stood for 21 hours because of a poem called “Prison of Liberty”. In 1976, the year in which 14 works were censored in just six months, Cassandra went bankrupt, losing  almost everything. In order to survive, she decided to start writing for newspapers and magazines, and publishing novels under a masculine name. Her books as Oliver Rivers, equally erotic, became equally successful, proving that the persecution was not against her literature, but against the person. In them, she took the opportunity to make fun of the censors: “My delicious cigarettes were consumed by almost the entire population, but they closed the factory and took me almost to bankruptcy. So I started selling only the nicotine I extract from my cigarettes.”

Interview with Jô Soares, 1990

Censor's veto of Copacabana Posto 6

Portrait by Vania Toledo

In interviews, Odette separated things and said that she was a different person from the one who signed the texts. She didn't like to talk about her personal life and romantic relationships, even though it was one of the press's biggest interests. Despite having had stable relationships, with anonymous and famous, she never wanted to marry again. The way she behaved and dressed also drew attention from the media, which found strange the preference for wearing so-called men's clothes, such as a suit and tuxedo, in public appearances or in TV programs. Even as she continued to write, Cassandra never managed to achieve the same number of sales. However, some film adaptations of her works were made, such as the box office hit, Ariella, a Paranóica (1980); Tessa, a Gata (1982) and A Mulher Serpente ea Flôr (1984). In the late 1980s, Cassandra won a program on Rádio Bandeirantes and ran for state deputy in the elections that would mark the end of the dictatorship, but was not elected. Until the end of her life, she kept working as a book reviewer and in her spare time she devoted herself to another passion, painting. Cassandra died of cancer at age 69 on March 8, 2002, International Women's Day. Shortly thereafter, her autobiography was released, Mezzamaro, flowers and cassis, where she remembers some of the names she was given: “lady with a cape and sword”, “demon of letters, “pope of homosexuality”. The fascination and impact it exerted on readers, shows how Cassandra was a pioneer, not only in the professionalization of women writers in the country, but also in the possibility of discussing more deeply what it means to be LGBT+ in Brazil.

Covers of the newspapers Lampião da Esquina and Pasquim; Posters of film adaptations of Cassandra's books: Ariella, The Snake Woman and the Flower and Tessa, the Cat

Chronology of Published Books (in addition to these, more than 20 books exist, but the publication date is not known):

1948- Volúpia do Pecado, Carne em delírio

1949- Eudemônia

1951- O gamo e a gazela

1952- O bruxo espanhol, A lua escondida, A sarjeta and A paranóica

1954- Minha metempsicose

1956- As vedettes, A madrasta - Copacabana posto 6 and Georgette

1962- Tara, A borboleta branca, Muros altos and A noite tem mais luzes

1963- A breve história de Fábia

1965- Veneno, Uma mulher diferente, Macária, A serpente e a flor, Um escorpião na balança and Tessa, a gata

1971- Canção das ninfas, As mulheres do cabelo de metal and Mutreta

1973- Nicoleta Ninfeta

1975- Marcella and As Traças

1977- Anastácia and Censura

1978- Uma aventura dentro da noite, A santa vaca, Patuá and Maria Padilha

1979- O gigolô and Prazer de pecar

1980- Marcellina

1981- Eu sou uma lésbica

1997- Entre o reino de Deus e do Diabo 

2000- MezzAmaro - flores e cassis

Research References:

VIEIRA, Kyara Maria de Almeida. "Cassandra Rios, construction of the name and the written life as a serial tragedy", 2014

PAIVA, Marcelo. Literature by Cassandra Rios educated a generation, Folha, 2002

BARBIERI JR, Miguel. Documentary records the life and career of a lesbian writer, Veja São Paulo, 2013

ALCURE, Lenira. Cassandra Rios: “Homosexuality became a profession”. In. Fatos e Fotos Magazine, 1983

REIMÃO, Sandra. Repression and Resistance: Book Censorship in the Military Dictatorship. University of São Paulo Publisher, 2011

Bajubá Collection, Interview and Report "Cassandra: What is Odette's sin?" in Realidade Magazine, 1970

Lampião da Esquina, editions 5 and 29, published in 1978 and 1980

Cover art of Cassandra Rios' books