Tonight, an interesting discussion about working class writers left me thinking for the rest of the evening…
While the original panel was intended to discuss how the publishing industry accepts or hinders working class authors and the unique space they may have to negotiate through this socioeconomic status, what emerged was an interesting discussion of what actually makes you a working class writer. How does one earn, receive or claim this title?
What I found most interesting was not Nathan Connolly’s, of Dead Ink Books, anecdotes about how to categorise, and what evidence to ask for from, a working class author for the book Know Your Place, but the discussion between writer Catherine O’Flynn and James Rice, both of whom felt that to know if they were working class, they would need to go and ask their parents.
This was surprising to me. The status of being part of any class has changed with time, culture and the economy; yet ultimately the decision made by Dead Ink Books when publishing Know Your Place feels like the right one. They wouldn’t ask for evidence, no working class credentials needed here, no proof that you have stood on the right side of the picket line and held up your union card, but the poor and simple fact that you openly, courageously and unashamedly felt yourself – working class. It is this very fact that shocked me about James and Catherine. Self identifying – the pride of belonging to a class of people that grafted, that stood together, that prevailed despite and because – well that feels like part and parcel of any identification that I make of being working class. I guess part of me assumed, that if you were working class, or of a working class background, you didn’t need to ask…you would know.
This is not a criticism of anyone at that panel. It was intriguing to see that for others perhaps it wasn’t as simple as it felt to me? I have always known that I am working class and that my family – descended from Irish, English, Scottish and Barbadian stock – were all also, firmly, working class. It is not really something I needed to ask, nor something that I have questioned, and I have championed that.
I am now a well educated teacher with a fair income and a well stocked home library – all things which typically would put me squarely within the middle class system – but I refuse to leave my local area, I continue to work within it, support local charities, and encourage those in my care to work hard and strive. This is not encouraging them to become ‘better’ than working class, or to leave it, but to better themselves as someone who is working class. My status has not changed because I have not changed. I have my degrees, my library, my job, my passion and my personal work because of the working class background that I refuse to forget, not in spite of it.
I have never needed to ask my mum and dad if I am working class. My dad worked two jobs at McDonald’s and as a cleaner to pay for my books from school fairs. They had nothing so that I could attend college hours away. My parents supported me, and continue to do so, so that I can be privileged enough to take hold of the opportunities afforded me. I will not forgot that they made me, and this is a fundamental part of who I am.
I have not yet read Know My Place, but I am eager to read a collection of essays/stories gathers by others who identify as working class and spend time discovering what it means to them.