At this festive time of year, it’s good to see that some keep the spirit of Christmas by remembering those less fortunate than ourselves – especially the working class. Blue collar, horn-handed sons and daughters of toil, Bud drinkers, Duck Dynasty lovers, trailer trash welfare mothers – if you tick any of those boxes, $750.00 could be yours, courtesy of the Speculative Literature Foundation, which has set up the “SLF Working-Class / Impoverished Writers’ $750 Grant” just for you.
News of this Lady Bountifulness was greeted with some skepticism, derision, and outright rage on Facebook and elsewhere. And I’ve rewritten my originally quite snarky but throwaway article on this, first to accommodate, with kind permission, quotes from Nick Mamatas and others on his Facebook thread about it , and secondly, to take on some of the more objectionable aspects of it a good deal more seriously.
Mamatas began his post (on an unfortunately friends-locked LiveJournal account), simply, by saying “What the f*** is this outrage.” He continued, “the call for applications is completely tone-deaf as it comes to blue-collar/working class life experiences,” and also linked to an earlier Facebook thread from March this year where he specifically warned the Foundation “do not launch this grant” when the organizers sought out help on how to frame application criteria in the proper language. And at every point “working class/poor” were yoked together like they belonged to each other. As you can see above, this has stayed in the terms and carries right on over to the yoking of “working class/impoverished.” And yes, they launched this grant.
One tone that the grant terms appear utterly deaf to is the note of working-class pride. “The dignity of labor” used to be an article of faith among the British working class of an earlier generation, back before the Wall Street Crash and its spillover from Wall Street started dis-employing them en masse. While not earning as much as a junk bond trader, crack dealer, or even – dare one say it – a tenured and salaried literature professor, a worker used to be able to take pride in their power to support themselves through their own work, and to have the pride to struggle, collectively, for the rights and entitlements that biased institutions denied them. Oh, and to educate themselves as well. Doubt it? Go read The Road to Wigan Pier, or almost anything D.H. Lawrence wrote about his early life. Now, that may be romanticizing the situation unduly, but I’m only one generation away from entitlement to this grant on some of its criteria, and right here and now for others – mostly on the poverty side.
Oh, and as to that poor part: There is this awkward fact that not all working people are poor. In the right niche, you’ll make more than enough as a plumber or construction worker. And do Abyss-style high-pressure deep-sea riggers count as social creme de la creme? Or Armageddon astronauts? Yet I bet their real-life analogs take home enough. (Just in case we have to use speculative fiction stereotypes to get the point across, instead of actual walking and breathing proletarians.) As Mamatas said, “The conflation or poor and working class … is a sign of middle-class privilege, full stop.”
Then there’s the slight problem of what happens to a working class recipient when they start writing. I mean, writing isn’t exactly a blue collar occupation, is it? So if you follow the Foundation’s logic to a conclusion they probably wouldn’t welcome, you’re dealing with a grant supposed to assist a supposedly disadvantaged social group, whose recipients disqualify themselves from that group the moment they become eligible for it. I mean, did Will Hunting stop being working class when he went to college? Did D.H. Lawrence stop the moment he first put pen to paper? Did Eminem when he rapped his way out of the trailer? Yet you’re not going to get horny hands wielding that ballpoint pen or keyboard.
And yes, many other write ups of this grant have been more favorable. Many support giving to needy writers on whatever grounds. The Foundation’s organizers retired hurt (or at least, miffed) from the Facebook discussion after objecting that their good intentions and hard volunteer work were being taken in vain. I still find this enterprise massively objectionable, for the reasons listed above, and more. And others do too.
Coming soon on TeleRead: Exciting footage from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s latest deep dive into the social abysses to prove the existence of the mythical bottom-dwelling poor. Working-class tube worms of the world unite: You have nothing to lose but your black smokers.