Born in the Brazilian town of Sacramento in 1914, Carolina Maria de Jesus was unemployed and pregnant when she moved to the favela of Canindé, São Paulo in 1947. There, living with her children in a wooden shack and working as a scrap collector, she faced seemingly insurmountable challenges as a single mother of three, constantly struggling to provide for her family amidst abject poverty. But in 1958 her life took a turn when a journalist named Audálio Dantas heard about the diary she had been keeping for three years, and reported on it the next day. Soon, excerpts were bring reprinted regularly in O Cruzeiro, a popular magazine read by hundreds of thousands of Brazilians each week, and in 1960, by which time she was already famous, her diary—Quarto de Despejo (‘The Dumping Room‘)—was published in full, going on to become an international bestseller.
The Diary Entry
May 11 1958
Today is Mother’s Day. The sky is blue and white. It seems that even nature wants to pay homage to the mothers who feel unhappy because they can’t realize the desires of their children.
The sun keeps climbing. Today it’s not going to rain. Today is our day.
Dona Teresinha came to visit me. She gave me 15 cruzeiros and said it was for Vera to go to the circus. But I’m going to use the money to buy bread tomorrow because I only have four cruzeiros.
Yesterday I got half a pig’s head at the slaughterhouse. We ate the meat and saved the bones. Today I put the bones on to boil and into the broth I put some potatoes. My children are always hungry. When they are starving they aren’t so fussy about what they eat.
Night came. The stars are hidden. The shack is filled with mosquitoes. I lit a page from a newspaper and ran it over the walls. This is the way the favela dwellers kill mosquitoes.
In 1962, Carolina Maria de Jesus’ diary was translated into English by David St. Clair and published by E. P. Dutton & Co. with the title Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus. A new edition arrived in 2003.
There is a short audio documentary about the diary on the BBC website.
Wikipedia has quite a comprehensive page on this fascinating diarist.
Also interesting is this Longreads article on Carolina Maria de Jesus, which tells her story in some depth.