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SOLIDARITY THROUGH POETRY

(from Social Poetics)

THE WORKER WRITERS SCHOOL (WWS) is an experiment in solidarity. Over the past fifteen years, our workshops have created spaces for participants to reimagine their relationship to work, nurtured new literary voices from the global working class, and produced new tactics for social change. WWS workshops have engaged workers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Panama, South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

WWS seeks to distinguish itself from the short-term engagement sought by most literary workshops, which might only last a week or month at a particular library, school, nursing home, or literary center. By contrast, WWS forms long-term bonds with worker centers and then recruits people from those fields—domestic workers, taxi drivers, fast food restaurant workers, and others—to become part of our ongoing collaborative project. In fall 2019, for example, we are celebrating our ninth year in collaboration with Domestic Workers United, the group that organized and fought for the first domestic workers’ bill of rights ever signed into law.

Who inspired this idea of using poetry workshops to organize social movements and working-class solidarity? Social Poetics details what I have taken to calling, borrowing from Howard Zinn, a people’s history of the poetry workshop. In the United States, it traces that thread through uprisings that include the Watts rebellion and the New York City teachers’ strike of 1968; globally, the scope of this history includes the Sandinista poetry workshops of Ernesto Cardenal and anti-apartheid trade union poetry workshops in South Africa. Even more specifically, WWS has consistently drawn inspiration from the writings of incarcerated individuals who have used poetry to document their political struggles.

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About Boston Review

Allies is the first publication of Boston Review's newly inaugurated Arts in Society department. A radical revisioning of the magazine's poetry and fiction, the department unites them—along with cultural criticism and belles lettres—under a project that explores how the arts can speak directly to the most pressing political and civic concerns of our age, from growing inequality to racial and gender regimes, a disempowered electorate, and a collapsing natural world.