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Beautifully Worthless
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Before I get started with my first blog entry, I'd like to thank the Red Room for letting me have an author's space in their beautifully designed, intuitive web home.

Now, on with the show.  A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to serve as moderator for a talk by poet and fiction writer Ali Liebegott, hosted by the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma and organized by Professor Marcia Chatelain. Since I was not familiar with the work of this Lambda Award winner, I ordered both her novel, The IHop Papersand her book-length poem (which is sometimes referred to as a verse novel), The Beautifully Worthless. As I read The Beautifully Worthless, I kept saying to myself, "Why haven't I run into this amazing poem before?"  While many readers have asked that of themselves at one time or another, for me, the question is also a matter of academic discipline—I'm a member of the Working Class Studies Association and my dissertation is on contemporary women's poetry of work and workers. I should have found this book long ago. 

Both The Beautifully Worthless and The IHOP Papers (that's IHOP as in the restaurant), are narrated by a waitress and set in working-class communities.  Neither book participates in the common generic conventions of "class passing" where the main character is working-class passing as middle-class (or vice-versa) nor are they class bildungsromans that celebrate a character's "rising" from the working class to become a successful middle-class person.  The characters in Liebegott's books are working class, work is a central concern, and the problems and pleasures of working-class life are honestly, accurately, and skillfully presented. Liebegott's writing is deceptively simple, painfully beautiful, and emotionally powerful.  It is accessible to people outside academia but it does not talk down to its readers. I thought about adding a link to reviews of Ali’s writing, but the reviews I read* missed or dismissed or ridiculed or found charming her truthful representation of working-class life; working-class writers have become all too accustomed to this sort of response.  So, instead of referring my readers to these reviews, I suggest you pick up a copy of The IHOP Papers and review it yourself.

Many working-class writers and critics have commented that working-class literature is unrecognizable in America; part of the reason is that Americans don't like to talk about class and would prefer to imagine it doesn't exist. However, those of us who do talk about the intersection of class and literature have our own set of blind spots; we consistently return to a static set of authors and texts as the material ground of our scholarly pursuits. This is partly due to the nature of academic writing which requires that scholars reference other scholars who talk about the same static set of texts. I admit my own complicity in this problem, and I hope that this blog entry not only introduces Ali Liebegott to a wider range of readers, but also opens a door for all of us to talk about class in literature and society—wherever we find it.

Wendell Rickets anthology of writing by working-class gay men, Everything I Have is Blue is the first working-class anthology to connect with the queer literary world; it is also the first queer anthology to connect with working-class writers and readers.  Unfortunately, it is out of print; it was published by the same press as Liebegott’s The Beautifully Worthless, Suspect Thoughts.  It would be great if the press could print a second run of both books. Rickett’s ongoing project, "Still Blue: More Writing by (for or about) Working-Class Queers, is “an opportunity to use creative writing to build connections among working-class queers across race, gender, and region." Ricketts encourages working-class writers of all genders to submit writing to the project; he also welcomes previously published writing, because he is aware that many queer writers, like many working-class writers, do not often get the opportunity to present their work to audiences outside the respective boundaries of "queer writing" or "working class writing." Perhaps this too, contributes to the invisibility of working-class queer writing: Ricketts and Liebegott are publishing work that is too gay for the working-class readers and too working class for middle-class queer readers.  The Lambda Award committee deserves kudos for stepping across this divide; I challenge working-class literary critics and scholars (including me!) to do the same. Working-class writing, queer and straight, is beautiful, not worthless.

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*I did not read all the reviews ever written on Liebegott's work, just the ones linked in the first six or seven hits on a Google search. 

Comments
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Working class writing

On my member page is a review of Denise Chavez's novel "Face of an Angel" which won the Hispanic Heritage month. It is about a woman who works as a waitress & is writing a book about waitressing. I really identified with the book & author.
I was just browsing the WOM-PO list-serv & read your intro. &looked you up here on RedRoom where I have a page as a member.
Marian Veverka

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Working class writing

Thanks for commenting on my blog, Marian. I have read some books by Denise Chavez, but have not yet read Face of an Angel. The waitress in The Ihop Papers is also writing a book. . . it must be a popular job for writers before they get famous. Maybe that means I'll get famous, since I worked as a waitress, too.

See you on WOMPO! 

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re: working class writing

This is a wonderful piece introducing a fascinating writing new to me. Welcome to Red Room blog!

Maybe I got lucky but I did conferences in the 1990s and on and met good critics who write about working class literature. I met Paula Rabinowitz at a labor history conference in Wayne State, and her book "Writing Red," and anthology of 1930s writing is terrific! I met Laura Hapke, and her book "Labor's Text: the Worker in America Fiction," was also great piece of criticism and scholarship of working class writing. I'm been working politically with Barbara Foley and Paul Lauter in the Radical Caucus of the MLA , and both have done fine scholarship and writing on working class literature. The Radical Caucus of the MLA which any MLA member can join and get on the list has people who really know and support academic work on working class literature--so I feel blessed with having this support system.

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re: working class writing

This is a wonderful piece introducing a fascinating writing new to me. Welcome to Red Room blog!

Maybe I got lucky but I did conferences in the 1990s and on and met good critics who write about working class literature. I met Paula Rabinowitz at a labor history conference in Wayne State, and her book "Writing Red," and anthology of 1930s writing is terrific! I met Laura Hapke, and her book "Labor's Text: the Worker in America Fiction," was also great piece of criticism and scholarship of working class writing. I'm been working politically with Barbara Foley and Paul Lauter in the Radical Caucus of the MLA , and both have done fine scholarship and writing on working class literature. The Radical Caucus of the MLA which any MLA member can join and get on the list has people who really know and support academic work on working class literature--so I feel blessed with having this support system.

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Working Class Writing

Yes, Julia, you're correct about that fabulous group of scholars and this post was not meant to disparage their great work of recovery and criticism--it was to get emerging scholars--and general readers-- to engage with different sets of texts as "working class," and to look at all texts with an eye for class issues.  I'm writing on contemporary women's poetry of work and workers so I'm just suggesting we (including me) build on our foremothers' and fathers' scholarship and try our best to look for working-class writing in places we might not immediately think of looking. How do I sign up for the Radical Caucus? (It wasn't in my MLA choices!) Backchannel me through FaceBook email with instructions, if you would.  Thanks.

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thank you

I followed your link and found I enjoyed the writing. I have not come across, until our meeting and conversation the other day, the name "working class writing" so I am learning something new. Your comments about the characters consistently working through and living in the working class life through a novel, without fall or rise, is a concept I had not thought about before. Of course we notice these themes in the classic literature cannon, rags to riches, etc. Thanks for writing and sharing!

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But not the first queer anthology about being working-class

I want to add that as far as I know, while Wendell's is the first anthology of working-class queer literature, it's not the first anthology of queer working-class writing. I think that honor would go to *Out of the Class Closet: Lesbians Speak* edited by Julia Penelope (Crossing Press, 1994). Please post a correction if I am wrong!

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friends, old and new

leaving the house, knowing the traffic in norman, walking into any door dresses in rags, finding a computer that wasn't used by somebody with a contagious disease, logging on and finding poetry by people i have known, and people i am just meeting for the first time, all seems to complex that i decided that i should go ahead and blog, i mean, how working class is all that? actually i haven't heard that term in years, or have filtered it out in preference to the term "working poor". when i was writing fulltime, i never felt like i fit in with other poets, still don't. the very word "class" makes me cringe. lately i've thought "have and have nots", but it's obvious which i am, having gotten rid of a laptop because i'm self-employed and having to shave off such expenses. but, maybe this way i can get back to writing again, at least once in awhile. blogging is, afterall, a pretty working class preoccupation. visit the Boston Globe's blog concerning the killing of women on craigslist, scroll down to find how i feel about it all, and all those long nights walking the floor wondering if i was doing the right thing by reading "touchy" poems at public events. can't say i was. hope to all....CHOTSI (DeClue)