Blue Collar Writers

An editor from a highly respected independent publisher, who subsequently has been hired by a Big Five publisher, reviewed and provided notes for my novel while I was in the MFA program at Wilkes University. He told me that the voices of writers like myself, who come from lower middle class backgrounds, are underrepresented in the literary world today. I’m pretty sure he meant this as a compliment as he did offer additional praise for my novel and told me that I had “writing chops.” Therefore I find it interesting as I delve more into the agent query process that many of them state that they are wishing to represent more diverse voices. I wonder, though, if they are referring only to minority voices (which no doubt have been unrepresented in the publishing world) without including writers who come from blue collar backgrounds and whose subjects and themes reflect this.

            Some writers have found success in writing about working class people. My favorite author William Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Ironweed, which is about a drunken ex-ballplayer who seeks redemption for past mistakes. Another favorite novel of mine is Kennedy’s The Ink Truck, which chronicles a newspaper strike. Richard Price, who grew up in a Bronx project, wrote about a group of young hoods in his debut novel The Wanderers and has gone on to write a good number of books about other working class people and especially cops (Clockers and The Whites). I would also add a couple of coming of age memoirs to this blue collar mix: Andre Dubus III’s Townie and Tobias Wolf’s This Boy’s Life.

            While the aforementioned books were published several decades ago, I would like to mention some writers whose recent novels I think represent the collective voices of the lower middle classes, or blue collar workers if you prefer: Dean Bakopoulos Don’t Come Back from the Moon), Timothy Brandoff (Cornelius Sky) and Michael Zadoorian Music). I would include two great teachers/mentors of mine in this group as well: Nancy McKinley Christopher on Pluto) and David Hicks (White Plains). Do yourself a favor and check out these authors and their books.

            The whole irony here for myself is that but for my father’s mental illness and his being institutionalized, I probably would have grown up in an upper middle class environment. I touch upon this in my novel A Bold & Brazen Article. “My dad, who enunciated every syllable, didn’t drop his gs like the rest of us mugs from Northeast Philly. Mom said he talked properly like that because he had a rich uncle who paid for him and his brothers to go to college back in the 1930s when most of the Irish got their educations digging ditches for the PTC (Philadelphia Transportation Company).” My dad actually went to LaSalle College and Villanova University.

I hope that someday my novel can be added to the cannon of the aforementioned working class novels and memoirs. I also hope that the people who I grew up with and with whom I attended school will embrace my novel because I have done my best to try to represent them. With a little luck and plenty of hard work, perhaps someday my name can be associated with this distinguished group of proletarian pen pushers.