On June 9-11 at the How Class Works conference hosted at SUNY Stony Brook, the Working-Class Studies Association will recognize the best new work in the field. In this week’s Working-Class Perspectives post, former WCSA President Christie Launius previews the pieces that have made a profound contribution to working-class literature.
The winner of this year’s Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing is Voices from the Appalachian Coalfields, by Mike and Ruth Yarrow, with photographs by Douglas Yarrow, published by Bottom Dog Press. The book is comprised of “found” poems created by the Yarrows based on interviews conducted during the late 1970s with Appalachian coal miners (both men and women) and their spouses. In her author’s statement, Ruth Yarrow explains that the book “is written as found poems because Mike realized that the interviews revealed strong emotions, rhythmic phrases and vivid storytelling skills that could be poetry.” One judge noted that though the interviewees’ voices are edited into poems, “they retain their authenticity and power.”
Great effort is made here to document and preserve the work and the voices of the workers and their families in this time and place. One judge wrote that these poems “beautifully convey life in the mines and on picket lines, showing the eloquence of the speech of working people. These pieces present the poetry of everyday life and present all the pain, resilience, bravery, humanity and aspiration of poetry crafted by poets. This book is a real and lasting contribution to working-class literature.” Another wrote that the book “captures both regional culture and working-class culture in all its emotional complexity through the competing voices.”
The renowned Working-Class Perspectives blog is brought to you by our Visiting Scholar for the 2015-16 academic year, John Russo, and Georgetown University English professor, Sherry Linkon. It features several regular and guest contributors.