Friday, October 22, 2010

Okie in the Literati

I just read and loved Gerald Howard's essay, Never Give an Inch, in the latest edition of Tin House. It's about the class divide in contemporary American authors, specifically the lack of working-class American authors and fiction.

Howard mentions that an author's bio used to contain the many jobs of his past, illustrating that he had been around the block and knew what he was writing about.  Now an author's bio lists his degrees, universities attended, and the prestigious lit mags in which he's been published.  Ivy league schools, which are economically difficult for working-class students to get into,  produce the current authors, publishers, and editors -- and the divide grows.

Oscar Wilde

Aside from just giving an accurate picture of the class-ism in contemporary fiction, the article reminded me of things I often consider as an aspiring author and son of a stone mason.

Are my affinities for T.S. Eliot, Dvorak, van Gogh, and ballet lessons genuine affinities or a striving to transcend my blue collar roots?  They're both.

On spring break of my sophomore year in college, I visited my brother who was working in Manhattan.  And I thought it odd that he had become more Okie than he ever was in Oklahoma.  His drawl was almost more Southern than Oklahoman, and he wore cowboy boots.  The only time I remember our wearing cowboy boots growing up was in costume. But I did the same after living here a short time, in fact I just bought two plaid shirts and wear jeans and labor boots to the office more than slacks and dress shoes.

Away from our Okie family, we both identified ourselves more with our roots as a way of amplifying an identity easily smothered by the urban masses.

Ken Kesey

I also have a tug-o-war with writing for the people in their language and writing of the people in heightened language -- and there's a few monkeys dancing on the rope between. Can I write in heightened language? Who is that for? No one reads poetry but poets and academics, anyway. When the poets, the seers of society, can not relate to the working man, how well can they see?

I jump back and forth in what I read, too, primarily reading classics, literary fiction, and poetry -- and comic books.

I first started this blog with an entry, Scents of New York, and other early entries that reflected my honeymoon with NYC.  Readers commented on the novelty of the NYC experience, but more often connected with my later posts about family and my Oklahoma anecdotes. This leads me to my crux: should I write about what is novel, literary, and intriguing, or about what I'm connected with? Both, but I hope the latter always takes precedence.


  1. What attracted me to your works (and don't ask me how I came across your page), was your clever word usage. I appreciated your rawness and honesty. I am not a poet or philosopher, and certainly not an academic, but I can identify with your adventures in life. Which brings me to say this. You are not who your circumstances reared you in. Yes, your family is a part of you, and yes, you were given a trade and abilities to fall back on. But you are who you become. As you continue to find that man, be proud of how far you've come, and the journey that brought you there. What an adventure.

  2. How did you come across my page? :) Thanks, Camilla.

  3. I can't remember, honestly. When I'm bored, I push th Next Blog button. I also do random searches. It's not called the Web for nothing. I wish you well in your writing endeavors.

  4. Paris: Country music every day. I know how that goes. Gail and I were tempted to get some cowboy boots.

    Anyway man, just do what you feel. Blog's yours and yours alone, and is always good reading.

  5. Thanks, MemorableName. Good to see you still stop by from time to time. Say "yo" to Gail for me.

  6. "No one reads poetry but poets and academics, anyway."
    I've been thinking about that lately. It's hilarious.

    "Ordinary people do exceptional things all the time" -OK Go
    I (and other blue-collars, I think) have to aspire to something, but have to be able to relate my boots as well. It's best to be enlightened by a peer.

  7. my two scents..
    I like when you write about what you are connected with. I like to see our family from your perspective. And, I'm too lazy to try and understand all the fancy literary stuff! ;)

  8. I don't know how I missed this post, but perhaps it was for the best because lately I've been thinking about just this. I like country music more in London than I ever did in Oklahoma. And on my latest road trip across America last summer, I think I ate biscuits and gravy at any western diner that served them.

    I think you're right about the value of our new loves and our connection to our roots--there's a balance in all of it, and at the end of the day a rightness.

    As for your writing--I love your poetry, and I love the meter of your prose. When you're flowing in a piece, it's magically transportive. I love your writings on New York living--I feel like you see (and describe) things in a way that are uniquely moving. I see New York through you differently than I do with other writers--from Bushnell to McCann, Salinger to Ellison. There's an Erickson in there that plays a different tune.

  9. Thanks, Holly.

    Wow, thank you much for your kind words, Sharona.

  10. Just found this quotation from Gertrude Stein:

    "A writer must preserve a balance between sensitivity and vitality. Highbrow writers are sensitive but not vital. Commercial writers are vital but not sensitive. Trying to keep this balance is always hard. It is the whole job of living."

    That's it!