When working class writes books
It is International Books Day! Let’s celebrate remembering some fantastic books written by working class people
World Book Day was created by UNESCO on 23rd April 1995 as a worldwide celebration of books and reading. It is marked in over 100 countries around the globe.
The first World Book Day in the UK and Ireland took place in 1997 to encourage young people to discover the pleasure of reading. Today we wanted to take the opportunity to share some books written by working class people.
Scotland has an incredible wealth of working-class writers, thanks to a strong community and tradition of support from established authors. There’s a host of brilliant writers to discover, but my favourites include Janice Galloway, James Kelman, Jenni Fagan and Lisa O’Donnell.
Debut novels I’ve been impressed with this year include the magical North Yorkshire coming-of-age novel How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus, Glen James Brown’s hugely accomplished interlinked stories about a Middlesbrough housing estate, Ironopolis, and Home, Amanda Berriman’s heart-wrenching tale of a family on the edge.
For even fresher talent, I unreservedly recommend the forthcoming anthology Common People. Edited by De Waal, it features writers such as Malorie Blackman and Damian Barr, alongside talented new working-class voices, including two writers I tip for big things, Shaun Wilson and Astra Bloom.
Joan Riley’s The Unbelonging (1985) was one of the first books about the experiences of black girls in the UK. The story of an 11-year-old girl from Jamaica, it makes the argument that all working-class or outsider art makes: find room on the shelves for all the unheard stories. Build new shelves.
- “Summoned to Britain by a father she has never known, eleven-year-old Hyacinth finds that she has exchanged the warmth and exuberance of the backstreets of Kingston, Jamaica, for the gloom of British inner-city life, finding herself in a land of strangers with hers the only black face in a sea of white. But Hyacinth is not a victim as, through academic achievement and dreams of her homeland, she survives and triumphs against the hostility of her classmates and threatened violence at home from her father, sustained forever by the sure knowledge that her dreams hold the truth.” Synopsis by the publisher
Working-class literature can be minimalist, expansive, realist, magical, angry, loving, straight, gay, trans, male, female, non-binary, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, mixed-race and on and on. It’s From the City, from the Plough (Alexander Baron) and These Bones Are Not My Child (Toni Cade Bambara), and Cloudstreet (Tim Winton).
- “Before I knew that I was Jewish or a girl, I knew that I was a member of the working class.”
Cover image by Tom Hermans