Since Pilar Ferreir started selling Brazilian street paper Ocas in São Paulo, she has gone from cleaning mansions to writing novels and performing poetry and can now provide for her family.
“I read Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and decided to write a story. My mother’s boss came into my room, saw my papers on the floor and said that I was writing too much.
“She tore everything up, said ‘get to work, blackie, you’re aiming too high’. This phrase has haunted me all my life. Today, every time I take part in a literary project, a recital, I remember this. It was complete nonsense.”
As Pilar landed her first paid cleaning job at 14, education was never an option for her. It wasn’t until she enrolled in a basic education course for deprived adults that she got some college experience, but finding secure employment remained a battle. Money was always running out and she was eventually evicted from her home.
One day, after leaving yet another unsuccessful job interview, Pilar broke down in the doorway of the Museum of Art of São Paulo and cried. Suddenly, she spotted a man with a bundle of magazines under his arm.
“I saw him selling magazines so I went over and asked him how I could get a job like that,” recalls the 44-year-old. “He told me about the street paper and I said to him, ‘but I don’t live on the streets’. He replied: ‘But soon you will’. And he was right. I no longer had any money in my purse and I hadn’t even realised it.”
Writing has remained her greatest passion. Following the publication of her poems in Ocas, she published a book, Unacademic Words. “I didn’t go to university, but living on the streets inspired me to write it,” she says.