The Working-Class Writing Archive Is Seeking More Material

People have so far submitted stories, poems, rap and spoken word, plays and film scripts to the Working-Class Writing Archive, says Sophie Meehan, a poet and co-founder of the archive.

But they’re still looking for more, she says.

And they’re looking not just for works that have been written down, but audio recordings too, she says. The manuscripts, book excerpts, fragments of poetry, and sound are to be loaded into an online archive.

Hopefully, there’ll be a physical version of the archive in a library at some point, says Meehan.

Motivating the project is a sense of what may have already been lost. Some working-class writing, unlike lots of middle-class works, may never have been recorded, she says.

“They were never written down or maybe they didn’t even learn to physically write and then their work has been lost,” she says. “And we’re kind of trying to let that not happen in future.”

Who Can Submit?

The idea for the archive grew out of a discussion that Meehan and archive co-founder Emma Penney had at a poetry talk.

Penney had done a PhD on Clear, a working-class women’s writers group that met in Kilbarrack in the 1970s and ’80s, says Meehan.

The pair discussed the wealth of working-class art hidden away from view, says Meehan, and decided to do something about it.

For the archive, they’re looking for works from those who were born in or have lived in Dublin and who identify as working-class. They might be works submitted by a current writer, or by the friends or relatives of past writers who have stumbled on their work.

Their definition of working-class isn’t exclusively economic or only for those whose families have been working-class for generations, she says.

“If you feel that that is how you identify, and has, like, formed the way you see the world, or has had an impact on your life,” he says. “If you, as a writer, identify as working-class, then yours is the work that we want in it.”

The work can touch on any subject. Submissions so far have drawn on a sweep of genres from sci-fi to romance.

“It’s more about the work itself,” she says. “It’s more like the work has kind of been forgotten about as in, like, never got into collections like libraries.”

Meehan says she and Penney have noticed a gap in what’s been sent in so far, so they put out a call earlier this month for submissions from writers from Black, Traveller and other minority backgrounds.

It was also a way to draw attention to what the archive is looking for, she says. “To make sure that, like, actual communities of working-class Dublin are actually represented in it, and that there is no automatic deselection.”

Some people might not think that the archive is looking for work by themselves or their family, she says. “We want to make sure that, like, those people know that this is an archive for them and that we want to have it all.”

They’ve also highlighted how they’re looking for audio recordings of stories too, and the works of past generations, asking “Did your granda write poems?” and “Did your granny write stories?” to encourage people to hunt around in family archives.

A Well

Those who have submitted so far have been excited, says Meehan.

“Like, their granddad was always an amazing poet and stuff, but he was a working-class man growing up in the ’50s or ’60s and he didn’t get the opportunity to share his work,” she says.

“It’s really important to people that this is happening, and that feels nice,” she says, bashfully.

They’re also reaching out to organisations and community groups that might have a dusty old archive stored somewhere in a building, says Meehan.

At first when they call up, people can seem confused, she says. “They’d be like, ‘Oh, I don’t think we have anything like that.’”

Then, they’ll get a call back once the person has gone off to a filing cabinet in the back room, she says, and returned with a stack of books.

“It’s kind of like those things are put out and then sort of forgotten about and not seen as important maybe, and so we’re bringing together a lot of that stuff as well,” she says.

Photo by Sophie Meehan

There’s been a lot of poetry, since it’s a naturally working-class art form, says Meehan. “It’s an easy art form to kind of do quickly and to do in and around other work and around domestic duties.”

Online submissions will be grouped by Dublin area, says Meehan, and laid out with the help of graphic designer Áine O’Hara.

Paul Dunne, who writes fiction, sent in his stories set in Tallaght, with scenes of the Dodder streaming through, and dialogue in the accents that Dunne hears every day in his neighbourhood.

It’s an accent that should have rhythm and sound, he says. “Sometimes I’ll read something where a working-class accent is meant to be a part of it and I just think it feels really like a stereotype, but it also feels really wooden.”

He wants to use the archive to find work that is written from and describes other areas of Dublin, he says. “I like the idea of someone potentially doing the same with Tallaght.”

Meehan says she hopes the archive will be part of changing the narrative on what is considered important work that’s displayed in archives, libraries and studied at university.

Newer writers will have a place to go so they can draw inspiration and references from past work, she says.

Dunne says he sees it as for people who may have just written for themselves and called it scribbling, for people who just enjoy expressing themselves.

“Who have things that are just kind of in their minds, that they need to get out, just for their own needs,” he says

A Harder Journey

The reason a lot of work might be unfinished, or lost, or hard to find, is because of how difficult it is to have a writing career, says Meehan.

Getting funding requires a body of work, and building that up can be out of reach without time and money, she says. “We’re losing a lot of artists that could be really, really important.”

Some people may not have been empowered to become writers either, she says.

Dunne says he noticed his middle-class friends at Trinity College Dublin had had much more exposure to the literary world growing up.

He would keep his ears peeled for literary events but they weren’t widely promoted in his community, he says.

“I think it’s kind of difficult to get engagement in working-class communities,” he says. “Sometimes it can be these strange attitudes about, you know, trying to better yourself, or trying to do something that’s against the curve and it’s not maybe expected from working-class communities.”

Says Meehan: “It’s almost like you’re not allowed to talk about it sometimes, or that you shouldn’t talk about it.”

Maybe people weren’t proud of their background, she says. “Working-class people in Dublin and Ireland have gone through generations of trauma really and it maybe wasn’t a source of pride for people.”

“There was never an opportunity for people to take pride in their identity and where

they come from and the unique artistic voice that comes from being working-class,” says Meehan.

The archive will be officially launched in late November, but there’s no final deadline for people to submit, she says. “The collection we launch with won’t be the end of it, it’s just the beginning.”

You can reach the archive at [email protected] or 0857493547.

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