What Happened to Proletarian Literature?

Populist Fiction

THERE WAS A TIME. . . .

There was a time when the American literary scene was defined by proletarian writing. Notably in the 1930’s, with the novels of John Steinbeck (Cannery Row, In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath) but from others, all-but-forgotten names like Horace McCoy, James T. Farrell, and Jack Conroy. The genre became so important that no less an author than Ernest Hemingway tried his hand at it, with the regrettable artistic and commercial failure To Have and Have Not.

After World War II the literary establishment, whether from reasons of commerce or ideology, de-emphasized populist writing. Scattered authors continued to add their insights and experiences. The excellent novella On the Line by Harvey Swados (1957) was one of them. By and large, though, with the rise of middle-class MFA programs and word-focused “literary” writing, the proletarian style of American literature fell by the wayside.

WHAT is the proletarian style? It’s marked by unpretentious prose– no sparkling Updike stylistic fireworks, sorry. No David Foster Wallace convoluted ruminations. Instead, simple accumulation of hard experience, focused on the working class, usually about economic hardship or collapse. Leaving the reader with a very different sort of impact. As if the reader had been– appropriately– punched between the eyes.

WE have an excellent contemporary example of the form, from a writer of now, Tim O’Connor, who gives us “The Baler.” In his story O’Connor expresses past hopes along with a disillusion which runs through many new writers. Amid a swiftly-changing world, an absence of faith in the future– in their future. As the editors of this site are from the long-beaten-down city of Detroit, we know that feeling well. As if the floor has dropped out from beneath you.

“The Baler” is a visit into a land alien to many Americans, the industrial world–

It’s the kind of scene you’d expect a factory worker to thrive in. The one where all the men at the bar are middle-aged and overweight. A majority of them have thick mustaches and wear thirty-year-old hats with retro beer logos on them. If you squint your eyes hard enough you can imagine them crushing cans of Schlitz, commiserating over another failed pennant race by the Tribe under the glow of a neon sign.

Thmas Hart Benton-Boomtown-mural

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(Art: “Detroit Industry” by Diego Rivera; “Boomtown” by Thomas Hart Benton.)

 

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Fiction: Life in High School Now

Pop Lit Fiction

THE NEW GENERATION

WHAT are the kids doing, thinking experiencing? HOW are their lives different from ours? What’s changed? What burdens, obstacles, expectations and insanities are they going through– beyond those which we who’ve been around longer have already faced?

HAS there ever been a more connected yet more alienated generation?

WILL they soon simply proclaim in one voice “Enough!” and be done with all of it, and with us?

QUESTIONS which are raised by our new feature story by recent high school student A.K. Riddle, “Now All the Kids Are Making Noise Just Because It’s Something to Do.”

Experience? A.K. gives us a ton of it, along with the emotion and confusion of being young– of being human. Along with exceptional writing. Plus, a structure which doesn’t fit a predictable mold– which one would expect and want from an artistically fresh and talented young writer.

There’s a lot going on in this story. We hope you like it.

I wished I could play with them and laugh along to their jokes and sing along to their rap. But, as I looked to the clear sky and opened the door a little to feel the cold air, I remembered that I was just a poet. I was just there to tell their stories, not be like them. I don’t know if I liked it that way, but that’s just the way things were.

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(Painting: “The Dance of Life” by Edvard Munch.)

Our Insane World

Pop Lit Fiction

WE meaning mankind have existed in insane periods in the past many writers and artists throughout history have been judged or diagnosed insane including Van Gogh and others like Dostoevsky Beethoven and Kafka have been on the edge, there have been crazy times, but have they been quite as extreme and chaotic as flat out mad crazy as OUR time? Now, in 2018?

Blame it on electronic media? Facebook? Twitter? Video games? The collapse of culture and decay of civilization?

TO ILLUSTRATE today’s madness we present to you the reader a story by Andrew Walker, “Blue Men in Black Coats,” which floats in between reality and madness, so that we ask, “Is this real? Any of this real? Or is it too real?” The story is too spot on, too much a presentation of now and the insane world which surrounds us.

The blue men do not look at you. From the books you’ve read, the shows you used to watch, the notes scribbled down in the pocket notebook you don’t use enough, you figured they would be some sort of bizarre, alien force come to act as a metaphor, an image, a symbol. Something come alive from the stories you have yet to write.

But these blue men appear to only be existing as anyone else would: to enjoy their Saturday.

picass_blue_room

(Art: “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe” by Van Gogh; “Blue Room” by Picasso.)

 

 

How to Save Literature

Pop Fiction

WHAT?? Experimental DIY author Wred Fright is going to save literature?

Well, he and others like him will if they maintain their imaginative ways of looking at fiction and literature– at what qualifies as fiction and literature. New ways of presenting the art, being readable, hooking unaware members of the greater populace on reading. Sorry, folks, but in the long run– or really, the short run– well-crafted New Yorker stories full of long paragraphs of finely-tuned verbiage putting masses of Manhattan commuters on trains and subways, or businesspersons on crowded airplane flights, to sleep just aren’t going to cut it.

Fiction needs what to compete?

First, immediacy. Second, the unfamiliar. The humorous or surprising.

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WE’RE NOT saying Wred Fright is Tolstoy, mind you. (Though one never knows how he’ll be treated in future centuries as mankind keeps changing. He may well be taught in 2118 at online universities, the brick and mortar kind having been long closed or turned into the very WalMarts that Mr. Fright loves to mock!)

Enough of this– read “Yelp in Reverse.” Thanks for being here!

It’s two in the morning, I just want to keep doing shots in the manager’s office and get through the night at what has to be the worst Walmart in America. I want to get out of this hellhole, but a gal dreaming of a lucrative career in retail management has to start somewhere.

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KEEP UP on News of the Literary World at New Pop Lit News.
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(Main art: “Still Life of Books” by Jan Davidszoon de Heem. Tolstoy painting by Repin.)

illustration for New Pop Lit

New Fiction: Anne Leigh Parrish

Pop Lit Fiction

THE WAR between men and women in this culture is ongoing. Redress of long-held grievances. We’ve published an array of featured fiction and poetry addressing the issue.

Today we feature fiction from one of the best short story writers in America, Anne Leigh Parrish. The story, “He Said, She Said,” contains Anne Leigh’s trademark insights into the subtleties and outrages which entangle that tentative truce between the sexes we call marriage.

Does this sound like anyone you know?

He was a romantic character. Women outnumbered men at his book-signings, and when he went on tour, trips she couldn’t take with him, because of the children. His mystery novels were considered clever, good psychological studies of the criminal mind, the rationalization people engage in when they’ve done wrong.

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(Painting: “Landscape with Sun Disk” by Robert Delaunay.)