About

Alumni Spotlight: Priscilla Goslin ’67, Author of How to Be a Carioca

The Graded Gazette

Photo credit: Leo Martins for O Globo

Priscilla Goslin ’67 is the author of the novel that inspired the Star+ series How to Be a Carioca, starring Seu Jorge, Débora Nascimento, and Douglas Silva. She’s also a graphic designer, pianist, publisher, and adventurer. 

In this month’s Alumni Spotlight, Priscilla shares how hang gliding led to authoring How to Be a Carioca, her journey from self-publishing to Disney stardom, why she turned down The Juilliard School, and how Graded impacted her life—from igniting her passion for grammar to rekindling an old friendship that blossomed into marriage.

 

What inspired you to write How to Be a Carioca

After graduating from college in California, I moved to Rio to begin my career in graphic design. For starters, I freelanced at ad agencies, which left me plenty of free time to languish on the beach between jobs. One thing led to another, and I became involved in hang gliding. That translated to countless hours sitting on São Conrado Beach, playing backgammon with the hang glider pilots while waiting for the winds to shift. I was young. I could dictate my work schedule. Life was easy.

However, there was a hiccup in paradise. Although fluent in Portuguese, I could hardly understand a word those carioca pilots were saying—or almost anyone else around me, for that matter. Both at work and at play, I was surrounded by people speaking carioquês.  

Spotting a tourist walking down the beach with an English-Portuguese dictionary in hand, I knew he was missing out on what was really going on in Rio, namely the irreverence and creativity of the cariocas as expressed through their slang. So, I began compiling a Carioquês-English dictionary, complete with phonetic spelling.

As an expat of Finnish descent with an inherent propensity for the melancholic, I was also on a quest to discover what makes cariocas tick and why they always seem so darn happy. Could their indomitable cup-half-full optimism be assimilated?

There were lots of guidebooks that offered tips on where to eat and what to do while visiting the Cidade Maravilhosa, but none that delved into the soul of the city, into the essence of the cariocas, those delightfully charming inhabitants of my adopted city.

With that in mind, inspired by the carioca joie de vivre, their passion, their unconditional love for their city, their spontaneous smiles, their belief that the universe is essentially a benign entity and that life is good (even if it isn’t!), I set about penning a tongue-in-cheek alternative guide for the tourist in Rio to help the unwitting foreigner blend in with the locals.

I dedicated How to Be a Carioca to the hard-working carioca whose sense of humor makes Rio such a delight. I owe the book’s success to them. I’m merely an observer.

 

How did you get into the publishing industry?

I submitted my manuscript for How to Be a Carioca to numerous literary agents and publishing houses. As to be expected for an unsolicited manuscript from a “nobody,” it was flat-out rejected. Actually, there was one publisher who expressed interest, with the caveat that I make a few “minor” changes, beginning with the cover illustration of Corcovado ogling a bikini-clad gatinha. 'Sacrilegious,' he said. Well… that didn’t sit very well with me. As Tony Soprano would say, 'What are you gonna do?'

Finding myself at a fork in the road—either wait for that phantom publisher or DIY—and confident my book had a fifty-fifty chance of becoming a blockbuster “as is,” I opted to self-publish.

My budget was tiny. I found a printing shop in the recesses of a not-very-hospitable favela on the outskirts of Rio, where I dropped off my final artboards with a request for 3000 copies. Why 3000? According to the Câmara Brasileira do Livro, a title that sells a total of 15,000 copies is considered a bestseller. I figured, why not shoot for the moon?

In June ‘92, 150 boxes containing 20 books each were delivered to my doorstep. Great, I thought, now we’re cooking. Naively, I began calling all the local bookstores with my sales pitch: 'Boa tarde. I’ve written a guide for tourists in Rio. Would you be interested in buying it?' I leave their responses to your imagination.

So, there sat my 3000 books, piled up in my hallway collecting dust. At one point, I figured I could either give them away as Christmas presents to unwitting friends or use them myself as wallpaper.

In early August, the owner of a boutique bookstore gave me the okay to leave five copies in his shop on consignment. The following day, the editor of Veja magazine happened to pass by the shop, picked up a copy, and decided it was “a cara do Rio.” Veja ran a two-page spread in their next edition, and bingo! My phone began ringing off the hook, not only for book orders from all the bookstores that had previously written me off as a nut case, but also from the media with an avalanche of requests for interviews and photo shoots.

Handling the media circus was a cinch; I contracted a press agent. Filling book orders was another story. I knew zilch about pricing, invoicing, wholesale/resale, the alphabet soup of Brazilian taxes, and terms of purchase. The learning curve was off the charts. But first, in order to invoice books, I needed to establish a publishing company. Thus, TwoCan Press was born.

As the local saying goes, I must have been born with my backside to the moon. Like a stroke of good luck, the locals embraced me, as did national and international media alike. Countless TV appearances ensued, notably Brazil with Michael Palin (BBC) and Primetime Live with Diane Sawyer (ABC), plus write-ups in every news and radio outlet imaginable, including TIME magazine. Considered a sociological study, How to Be a Carioca is included in the syllabus at The University of Cambridge, as well as many other universities worldwide.

As a result of the book’s success, TwoCan Press continues to be flooded with unsolicited manuscripts.

Priscilla autographing copies for Kate Lyra and the late Carlinhos Lyra. By the time book signing night rolled around, the entire first and second editions of 3000 copies each were sold out. Within weeks, How to Be a Carioca topped the non-fiction bestseller list.

 

Clockwise: Jô Onze e Meia (Video credit: SBT); Priscilla being interviewed by Michael Palin for the series Brazil with Michael Palin (Image credit: BBC); Espaço Aberto com Carlos Nascimento (Video credit: TV Globo); Rio 450 Anos com Renata Capucci (Video credit: TV Globo)

 

How to Be a Carioca recently debuted as a series on Star+. How does it feel to see your work come to life on the screen?

I am gobsmacked! To be at the premiere, seated in the majestic Odeon Theater with a standing-room-only crowd, watching the whimsical little book I created decades ago come to life was surreal. It's the culmination of 14 years of intellectual property negotiations and the creative process to bring my words to the screen. The shining moment? Seeing my name in the credits.

The series far surpassed my expectations. Although different from my book, it reflects the same carioca spirit: unique and eternal. The actors, casting, cinematography, and soundtrack are to perfection. Familiar with the script, I was fascinated to watch my words come alive on screen. The privilege of working together with the uber-talented, Oscar-nominated Carlos Saldanha was indescribable.

The directors have enough material for 144 more episodes. Disney is committing to a second season. It doesn’t get much better than that! Spoiler: I make a cameo appearance in the last episode.

Priscilla on the red carpet with (left to right) Oscar-nominated co-creator/creative director Carlos Saldanha, co-creator/director Joana Mariani, and co-creator/director Diogo Dahl. (Photo credit: Divulgação)

 

 

As a former Graded cheerleader, what was your most memorable moment on the squad?

Undoubtedly, it was when Mr. Colby, Graded’s brilliant drama teacher, invited the cheerleaders to participate in the school production of The Great Race. Although he was highly respected and revered, almost everyone was terrified of Mr. Colby. As Steve Zeitlin ’65 so aptly expressed in his clever Toast to the Class of 65, 'When Colby said act, you acted – or prayed!' 

Mr. Colby expected and demanded full attendance at all after-school rehearsals, which meant we high school students either participated in drama or athletics, and never the twain shall meet. Thus, the squad high-stepping the can-can on stage was indeed a watershed moment.

The cheerleading squad doing the can-can in The Great Race, directed by Mr. Colby. Left to right: Karen Fallon, Nancy Harwell, Priscilla Goslin, Julie Behmler, Pam Bast, Gail Koschmann, Jane Stowell. (Photo credit: Studio Chadel)

 

Cheerleading co-captains Pam Bast and Priscilla Goslin.

 

Which Graded teacher left the most significant impression on you?

I’ve always wanted to thank Ms. Patel, my 10th-grade English teacher. She had a zero-tolerance approach to teaching punctuation. She also instilled in me a love of grammar and sentence diagramming. Little did I know at the time how much her passion for the written English language would impact my career decades down the road.

I would also like to give a nod to my French teacher, Mr. Allain. Admittedly, I was not a good student. Years later, when I returned to Paris, I was astonished to find myself speaking French: rudimentary and not up to Parisian standards by any means. Nonetheless, all I had learned in his classes was still there in the recesses of my brain. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Allain!

 

You earned your BFA from the California College of the Arts. What inspired you to pursue a career as a graphic designer? 

A prodigious pianist from an early age, I was accepted to The Juilliard School in Manhattan during my senior year at Graded. Although attending Juilliard was the obvious progression in my piano studies, to make a long story short, my heart was set on studying music in sunny California.

This culminated in a classic case of sense versus sensibility. Sense told me to go east, sensibility west. So, off I went to Whittier College in Los Angeles as a music major. It was NOT a good fit. The transition from São Paulo—the multi-cultural megalopolis that it is—to Whittier—a sleepy, ultra-conservative, small-town college, was a disaster. I shelved my formal piano studies for the foreseeable future.

Fast forward to my marriage to, having babies with, and eventual divorce from my Graded high school sweetheart. The prospect of supporting my children by playing the piano in one of Rio’s smoky piano bars served to kick some good sense into me. With sons in tow, I relocated to San Francisco and enrolled at California College of the Arts as a graphic design major.

Piano and graphic design may not seem like bedfellows: one is a musical pursuit, the other a visual art form. However, they share many common elements and skills: creativity, technical proficiency, attention to detail, and audience participation, among others. What inspired me to become a graphic designer? In a nutshell, my inherent need to express myself artistically with the benefit of a paycheck at the end of the day. Thus, graphic design WAS the perfect fit.

Have I ever regretted going west rather than east? Not for a nanosecond. I clearly lacked the dedication and emotional resilience required to be the next Martha Argerich. While piano continues to bring me great pleasure, graphic design has proven instrumental in my career as a publisher and writer. It was a win-win decision.

Priscilla presenting her Graphic Design IV exhibit at the California College of the Arts Gallery in San Francisco, a prerequisite for a BFA in graphic design. May 1982.

 

Your second marriage is also to a Graded alum. Tell us about your love story!

Our paths first crossed in 1960, more than five decades ago. At the time, I was an eleven-year-old sixth grader, and Ken Guptill ’61, a 17-year-old senior. His sister Kristi and I spent weekends riding our horses at the Clube de Campo, often galloping from the stables down to the marina. We’d sit on our horses watching Ken water-ski with his Graded buddies and my sister Pat, who was Ken’s classmate. I vividly remember ogling Ken skiing barefoot and thinking, 'What a hunk!'

Left: Kristi Guptill and Priscilla (ages 12 and 11, respectively) riding their horses. Right: Ken Guptill (at age 17) water skiing. Coincidently, both were photographed in 1960 by Ken and Kristi’s father at the Clube de Campo in São Paulo.

 

Over the years, I kept up with Ken and Kristi’s lives through the annual Christmas cards our mothers exchanged. Then, in 2017, out of the blue, Ken emailed my sister to let her know that he was coming for carnaval in Rio the following year. Since Pat lives in Campos do Jordão, she forwarded his email to me. Thus, Ken and I began communicating directly. After 57 years, I was looking forward to actually being face-to-face for the first time.

When we finally met at his hotel in Rio, it was as if the years had melted away. We instantly clicked. For the following weeks, we were inseparable, completely at ease in each other’s company. I attribute that sense of comfort and trust to the essence we once shared: the Graded experience.

After five years together, commuting between Rio and Ken’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, we were married in November 2022. I like to think our love story—like those of countless Graded alums who have gone full circle—is a testament to the belief that sometimes the most beautiful chapters of life unfold when two people, weathered by time and when least expecting it, rediscover each other and create a new narrative, not in the spring of their youth, but in the hues of their golden years.

Priscilla and Ken at their beach house on the Oregon coast in 2022.

 

In your free time, you practice rock climbing and hang gliding. What draws you to adventure?

Adventure must be in my DNA. Years before my father, Finley, became an airline pilot back in the glorious heyday of Pan Am, he was pushing the envelope doing aileron rolls (360º loops) in biplanes, often without a seatbelt. No doubt he instilled in me his penchant for adventure—albeit to a much tamer degree—as well as his love of flight.

When I was 27, I took my sons, Shane and Sundance, aged seven and three at the time, by bus from Rio to Belém do Pará—each of us carrying nothing more than a simple Army surplus backpack. The trip took us six weeks, stopping in each major city along the way, sleeping in simple pensões, and often sharing our one hammock. From Belém, we spent the next five days traveling upriver to Manaus on an old ferry boat. Why undertake such an adventure? To prove to myself that as a single mother with young children, there was nothing I couldn’t do.

My sons grew up to become expert rock climbers. Since the sport requires a dependable and reliable partner, Shane had the clever idea of enrolling me in the Escola de Alpinismo Cabeça Verde in order to ensure a partner was readily available. In spite of my fear of heights—or perhaps because of it—I took on rock climbing as a personal challenge, one that would take me way out of my comfort zone.

I’m definitely not the bravest person in the room! But working hard to do something I wasn’t sure I could do, in Rio, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, has been incredibly satisfying.

Priscilla climbing Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain with her son Shane Sponagle.

 

What advice would you give to current Graded students?

Remain humble; humility creates an openness that is essential for problem-solving. No matter where you find yourself down the road, your years at Graded will afford you a much broader perspective of the world; you will be better equipped to adapt to change and make decisions. Take risks; amazing things can happen when we do things that make us come alive. And most importantly, always maintain a good sense of humor.

My favorite nugget of advice? In the words of the beloved Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra: 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it!'

Graded friends for life and, coincidentally, neighbors in the Portland area. Left to right: Ken Guptill ’61, Priscilla Goslin ’67, Graded co-cheerleader Jane (Stowell) Duck ’68, and Tom Duck ’67 dining in Lake Oswego, Oregon 2023.