A working-class writer


I was feeling a bit out of sorts on Sunday, which was Mother's Day. I'm not a mother - well, a stepmother, but that's a step removed from the mothers who are showered with flowers and cards on Their Day. We were eating lunch when I checked my messages and learned that Blood Clay, had won the General Fiction prize in the Eric Hoffer Awards. I felt like Mother's Day had arrived for me - my child had been recognized!
The Eric Hoffer Award has been around for a few years, and includes a competition for short prose as well as for books published by small or "indie" publishers. I'm happy to place the Hoffer seal on my page because the self-taught longshoreman/philosopher speaks to my heritage.
Born to an English/German working class family like my own, he grew up in the Depression and struggled to learn. “When my father (a cabinetmaker) died, I realized that I would have to fend for myself," he wrote. "I knew several things: One, that I didn’t want to work in a factory; two, that I couldn’t stand being dependent on the good graces of a boss; three, that I was going to stay poor; four, that I had to get out of New York."
My father grew up in the Depression, worked in a factory most of his life, then started a small bait-and-tackle store from next to nothing and worked it for 15 years. He and my mother have worked hard every day of their lives. I worked my way through college, with the aid of Pell grants and student loans, and became a newspaper reporter. I left New York, and chose a career in  reporting and writing that never promised riches.
Hoffer worked the railroads, fields, docks, and mines and learned in the great university of the public library, taking out library cards wherever work took him. Eventually he would become a "research professor" at UC Berkeley, write The True Believer and nine other books, and be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He was a working-class man who never turned his back on the value and knowledge that comes from digging a garden, canning tomatoes, cutting firewood, sewing a blouse, making over and making do. He once said that "my writing grows out of my life just as a branch from a tree."
Ernest Hemingway said we are to struggle to write "one true sentence."  To be true, that sentence has to come out of ourselves in the most intimate way. That is the case whether we are writing memoir or a far-flung space fantasy - if it speaks to the reader, it comes out of some deep place inside us.
I hope that I can continue to write with that kind of fidelity.


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