Bookmarked is a column in which writers give us their "shadow bibliographies"— essentially, the books behind their books. Which books influenced their writing, and how? Today's writer is Jen Fitzgerald, whose book The Art of Work is now available.
The Art of Work represents years of creative work and collaborative labor. Here are a few of the texts that influenced me as I conceptualized, wrote, and refined my first collection.
Let us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee & Walker Evans), How the Other Half Lives (Jacob Riis), The Jungle (Upton Sinclair), What Work Is (Philip Levine)
The first two are staunch realism and journalistic rendering of lived conditions of urban and rural poor. The second two are crafted works based on the author’s experience while also creating a fictionalized geography that aligns closely with actual people and places of an era. While I wasn’t sure what The Art of Work would become when I started writing it, I knew the work I wanted it to do in the world. If you seek to do this in your own writing, know who and what came before you. More on this later…
Regarding the Pain of Others (Susan Sontag)
I wanted to be careful, respectful, and aware of handling subject matter and people in a way that elevates, not exploits. By interweaving mine and family’s current and historical working class realities, I use the similarities in and intersections as connective tissue to bridge gaps between generations. In this way, I am offering bridges more than framed shots where people become objects.
The Psychoanalysis of Racism, Revolution, and Nationalism (1977, Richard A. Koenigsberg)
This text can be a placeholder for nearly any sociology, anthropology, or philosophy text from generations past. See what people were writing about then to understand how it interacts with our current climate and conditions. We can learn a lot from early observations of a social system. We do not reinvent social science with every new generation, we merely fill in our segment of the timeline. And if we do not understand what came before us then we are showing up to the party without any pants on and expecting to be taken seriously.
The biggest influence on the collection is lived experience and oral history. While The Art of Work is also an “academic” text, in that I have researched, know my political and poetic lineages and paid homage to both, the language and movement in the book comes from growing up in Union households, visiting UFCW Local 342 job sites, and laboring.
I didn’t grow up in a house with books; I grew up in a house with stories. Within these stories were hints about our culture, through folklore, superstitions, and turns of phrase.
My work pulls from literature, subway cars, table bussers, philosophy books, the cadence of longshoreman, penal law, and rusted metal. I draw from the stories I have been told throughout my childhood—the folklore, superstitions, and histories that are woven into the fabric of my family.
Jen Fitzgerald is a poet, essayist, and a native New Yorker who received her MFA in Poetry at Lesley University. She is the host of New Books in Poetry Podcast, a member of New York Writers Workshop, and author of The Art of Work (Noemi Press, 2016). She teaches “Writing the Silence,” a workshop she created to help writers interrogate the synaptic leaps in their work. Her work has been featured on PBS Newshour and Harriet: The Poetry Foundation Blog and in Tin House, Salon, PEN Anthology, Cosmonauts Avenue, among others and is forthcoming at Colorado Review and Public Pool. She is now in the D.C. area and at work on her memoir.