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Writers and Miners

Writers and Miners: Activism and Imagery in America

David C. Duke
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j7vw
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  • Book Info
    Writers and Miners
    Book Description:

    Coal miners evoke admiration and sympathy from the public, and writers -- some seeking a muse, others a cause -- traditionally champion them. David C. Duke explores more than one hundred years of this tradition in literature, poetry, drama, and film. Duke argues that as most writers spoke about rather than to the mining community, miners became stock characters in an industrial morality play, robbed of individuality or humanity. He discusses activist-writers such as John Reed, Theodore Dreiser, and Denise Giardina, who assisted striking workers, and looks at the writing of miners themselves. He examines portrayals of miners fromThe Trail of the Lonesome PinetoMatewanandThe Kentucky Cycle. The most comprehensive study on the subject to date,Writers and Minersinvestigates the vexed political and creative relationship between activists and artists and those they seek to represent.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4821-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Coal mining as an industry and way oflife today is a far cry from its heyday early in the twentieth century. Deserted tipples, rusting equipment, and abandoned mining communities are sharp reminders of a bygone era. The once-powerful United Mine Workers ofAmerica is a scaled-down version ofits former self; the name of its president is scarcely known beyond the country’s mining regions. Strikes against the A.T. Massey Coal Group and the Pittston Coal Company still make national news, but they pale in comparison to the strikes ofthe Lewis era in the 1940s and 1950s. Young men from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois,...

  5. Chapter 1 Idiosyncratic Activism while Assisting “The Other”
    (pp. 9-45)

    In the late summer of 1889 two men of different background, class, and age found themselves in Spring Valley, a small, largely immigrant coal town on the banks of the Illinois River. John Mitchell, a nineteen-year-old itinerant coal miner ofWelsh ancestry, had just returned from several years ofwandering and working throughout the mining West. He had gotten a job in one of the local mines in 1888 but, along with the other miners, lost it when the Spring Valley Coal Company locked out its workers to drive down their wages. That same summer a forty-two-year-old patrician journalist/reformer perpetually in search...

  6. Chapter 2 Two Appalachians: Don West and Denise Giardina
    (pp. 46-66)

    Unlike most of the other writer/activists, Don West and Denise Giardina were born in the coalfields. Both also were closely associated with coal mining during important periods of their lives. For a short time in the 1930s, West tried to organize while he worked as a miner in Harlan County; and Giardina spent her early years in coal mining camps in southern West Virginia. Their common Appalachian background is also reflected in their creative efforts. Much of West’s poetry deals with the problems faced by working people in southern Appalachia. Giardina’s best-known novels,Storming Heavenand TheUnquiet Earth,focus...

  7. Chapter 3 Coal Mining in the Novel, the Short Story, and Genre Fiction
    (pp. 67-100)

    Mikhail Bakhtin argues that the novel, ofall the creative genres, offers the best description oflife. The novel has dialogic potential as it immerses itself in life’s daily routine. In characterization, ideas, and social issues, the novel can effectively portray the unfinished nature ofhuman existence.¹ In many ofthe works in this chapter, mining people are often “characters” rather than “personalities.” This literary distinction of Bakhtin’s embraces the concept of “the other.”² No matter how complex or skillfully drawn characters are, for the most part they are “objectivized” and “finalized.” They are static and frozen into an unalterable sense of reality. Personalities...

  8. Chapter 4 Stage and Screen
    (pp. 101-125)

    Film and poetry share what the critic Robert Richardson calls a “logic ofimagination.” Charles Eidsvik suggests that theater is the only modern art whose existence has been threatened by the appearance of the cinema.¹ What may be commercially true in the world of theater and mass culture, however, is neither analytically nor conceptually important to this discussion. Plays and films relating to coal mining are analyzed primarily from a thematic perspective, and these two very different media ultimately complement one another. This is true even though the analytical tools used here do not always reflect the creative dimensions of camera...

  9. Chapter 5 Coal Mining Fiction for the Young
    (pp. 126-143)

    A good deal of children’s and adolescent literature touches in some way on the coal miner and the mining life. There is no intrinsic distinction between this type of literature and that created for adults, although subtle differences do exist. C.S. Lewis, for example, said that he never consciously set out to compose exclusively for children. While first toying with an idea, he discovered that “a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say: just as a composer might write a Dead March not because there was a public funeral in view but because certain musical...

  10. Chapter 6 Coal Mining and the Poetic Imagination
    (pp. 144-172)

    One recent critic argues that poetry has become the “most private and least accessible” of the arts. Another critic, whose book titleCan Poetry Matter?reflects a similar concern, notes that “outside the classroom-where society demands that the two groups interact-poets and the common reader are no longer on speaking terms.”! Despite these observations, the apparent lack of public attention has not deterred poets in the modern era. The numbers are increasing at a remarkable rate.² A few modern poets have turned to coal mining as an appropriate subject for their creative efforts. Here they have followed in the footsteps...

  11. Chapter 7 Voices from within the Mining Community
    (pp. 173-218)

    In an article that first appeared in thePittsburgh Pressand later in a 1900 issue ofThe United Mine Journal,journalist WS. Applegate quotes a mine superintendent’s Emersonian heralding of long-awaited literature that would finally reflect the coal mining experience. “Some day;” predicted the grayhaired superintendent, miners “will have their place in literature, just as have the sea toilers, the factory people, the soldiers and their life at the army post and the railroad men.” He believed that “down in the underworld of Pennsylvania there is material for a hundred books that all the world would stop to read....

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 219-224)

    While some writers actively assisted miners, others merely wrote about them. Nearly all, however, envisioned mining people as “the other.” Like Proteus, “othering” takes various forms. Some writers are driven by creative ambition, others by ideology or politics. Most hold a myopic view of mining people. They sympathize with them over their hard work but nonetheless portray them in limiting and stereotypical ways. In fiction, theater, film, literature for older children, and poetry, mining people are portrayed as one-dimensional working-class character types. Their creators regard them as objects without subjectivity. But not all writers try to simplify life in the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 225-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-275)