Collaborative Preservation of Working-Class Histories: Social Concerns in the FWWCP Collection (Part 2)

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Students in reading roomGuest bloggers Dr Jessica Pauszek and Syracuse University Fellow Vincent Portillo describe their recent visit, along with their summer school students from the Syracuse University’s Studies Abroad Programme, which took place over a month between May and June 2018. This is the second in a short series written about their visit and the work they have been doing on the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. (Our own member of staff Hannah Bennet took part in the classwork.)

In our first blog post, we wrote about our student’s archival work to organize the FWWCP Collection. Their work was part of a Civic Writing course, where they explored how community groups address social concerns through writing. Students explored the Collection, now consisting of over 80 boxes of materials, choosing themes highlighted by FWWCP members to focus their reading, including: Art, Food, Gender, Literacy, LGBTQ+, Mental Health, Migration, Race/Racism, War, and Work. The goal was to find, read, and summarize texts within the FWWCP Collection that connected with major themes, while writing user guides for future academic and community researchers interested in working-class identity, community literacy, and self-publishing.

Often, we saw how the themes overlapped in exciting ways to deepen our understandings of this unique working-class collection. For example, one student, Trenna Soderling, focused her reading of the FWWCP publications on gender in the 20th century. She noted, “These publications provide great insight into the lives that these people were living . . . Overall, I’ve walked away with a wealth of new knowledge and greater understanding of working class life in 20th century England.” One publication that stuck out to Trenna was Tough Annie, which she describes as “a detailed account of a woman’s life from her time as a Suffragette to her work as a Member of Parliament.” Indeed, Tough Annie —  published by Stepney Books through interviews with Kate Harding and Caroline Gibbs — describes Annie Barnes’ contributions to the Suffragette movement, as well as her future work with the Labour Party. Amongst her group of texts related to gender, Trenna also recognized intersecting concerns of domestic life, motherhood, migration, race, politics, labour, World War II, and more.

Student Michelle Tiburcio also explored topics of gendered identity, but her work specifically focused on LGBTQ+ narratives. She describes the excitement of her findings: “Once I opened my first box to get started, I saw a little yellow book with words that jumped out at me: Northern Gay Writers. My heart warmed up… I spent the entire 2 and a half hours of class time reading that book. I felt like I had suddenly been invited into this new world of literature and discourse that put everything I have felt and experienced into a neatly compact published book, and I couldn’t wait to read more.”

Another publication that stood out to Michelle was Words from the Women’s Cafe: Lesbian Poetry from Word Up. Michelle noted: “I found a beautiful poem written by Lim Aii Ling about her life with her lover of over 40 years. Ling speaks about issues that many people in the LGBTQ+ community deal with constantly that often go unspoken, including issues with family acceptance and love, creating a ‘chosen’ family, and the lack of representation.”

Michelle goes on to describe the impact of Words from the Women’s Cafe and the FWWCP preservation project as a whole: “Preserving works like these can help other people — maybe future students — feel represented and not alone . . . I am happy to have contributed, even in a little way, to the preservation of the work that the FWWCP has created, and I hope that other people are lucky enough to look through those boxes someday, too.”

The FWWCP Collection contains numerous publications — poetry, prose, fiction, memoir, and interviews — that explore gender, identity, and LGBTQ+ issues. You can learn more by visiting the TUC Library. The FWWCP/FED is also on Instagram (fwwcp_collection) and at http://fwwcp.gn.apc.org.

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