During the last election cycle, the American working class got a lot of airplay. Donald Trump’s rhetoric was a throwback to a different era of politics and a different economy. Talk of American workers often included overt and coded criticism of China, which was portrayed as a villainous and devious nation that had stolen jobs from deserving Americans. Of course, the Asian workers (many of whom are not Chinese) who were supposedly responsible for America’s declining fortunes were never mentioned.
In the past, American labor movements produced literature that was both popular and politically effective. Books like The Jungle exposed working conditions and pressed for egalitarian politics. It may feel dated today, but it raises an interesting question: What would popular working class literature look like in another context? What if The Jungle were written in an iPhone factory?
Covering poetry and fiction from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines, for Chinese poetry he highlights the anthology of workers’ poetry, Iron Moon, translated by Eleanor Goodman. He says:
Considering that these worker-poets often have very little formal education (and not a lot of time on their hands), the high quality of the work here points to one obvious conclusion: There are a lot of good poets in China. More notable, however, is that they exist outside of China’s professional system of writers, just as their jobs put them outside of the usual trajectories of professional advancement. A lot of us could learn something from these individuals about solidarity—as well as about writing.
Click on the image for his full list.