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The Working-Class Writing Archive

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Poetic Licence

Ben Simmons

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The Working-Class Writing Archive is a new digital platform that has been selected for development by the Arts Council’s Literature Project Award scheme. It will provide an online and publicly accessible home to the writing of the working-class writers and communities of Dublin. This project is a collaboration between poet Sophie Meehan, Dr. Emma Penny and Digital Artist Áine O’Hara. The online archive will present an interactive map of Dublin where you can explore the creative work of it’s working-class communities. 

After reading the callout out for this ambitious project I reached out to Sophie Meehan to find out more and she was kind enough to answer my questions.

What motivated you to develop the Working-Class Writing Archive?

“Myself (Sophie Meehan) and Emma Penney, my collaborator on the project, met at a seminar organised by Poetry Ireland called Missing Voices, which was all about women poets who had been excluded from the canon. Emma was presenting a paper on her PhD work on working class women’s writing groups like KLEAR and the work of their poets, including Cathleen O’Neill. I was in the audience. Afterwards we chatted and when I found out she loved football and I had written a poem about St. Pats, we became best friends. We met up and talked about the possibility of collecting a wider range of the sort of work Emma was compiling, and she talked about how many of the key literary works of working-class Dublin were lying in community centres unread for decades. A lot of it was published in books and pamphlets that had small print runs, but were never catalogued or archived in a public library for example. The archive we are working on now, after securing funding from the Arts Council, has expanded from Emma’s original research on writing groups and the literary output of literacy schemes, to also include individual writers, playwrights, screenwriters,contemporary writing collectives and spoken word artists. It doesn’t matter to us whether someone is/was published, and we’re getting a lot of lovely stuff that people’s families have preserved from their grandparents’ papers for example.”

 

You mentioned that much of this work has been overlooked. By making the writing of working-class Dublin writers more accessible, how do you think it will change that?

“Emma raises the point that there is a false narrative of working-class literary output in Ireland; we have always had the odd famous working-class writer, eg. Brendan Behan or Paula Meehan, who seem to stand out in a sea of more middle-class and privileged writers in our literary history. In reality working-class people have always written, and we also have a rich oral tradition of stories, poetry and song. There are so many writers who have never shown anyone their work because they have felt that being a “writer” wasn’t an accessible option for them. Our archive will prove that they are writers regardless, and their work is  really important, not just for any social or cultural history we can glean from it, but for its intrinsic artistic value. The archive will bring together writers who would never before have been aware of each other, and writing groups will see that they stem from a long tradition. People will be able to go to an area on a map of Dublin on our website, eg. Rialto, and see all of the writing that has come out of their area at different times. We hope it will be used as a teaching tool for working-class studies in universities, as well as connecting and inspiring writers and readers.”

What made you choose a dynamic online archive for this project, instead for a print anthology or a series of publications?

“We wanted it to be as accessible as possible and to look cool and funky! I hate when you go onto an online archive and you have to be an archivist or academic to know how to use it; that’s not accessible. We wanted it to be so people will want to use this website for a long time. It’ll be fun to use, look cool and pretty and give a sense of the context of the work through images and sound. We’re working with the artist Áine O’Hara to design the site. We also plan to house a physical archive somewhere; we are inviting input from contributors on where this should be but accessibility is our priority, so it might end up in a public library.”

Creating this archive as an online map of Dublin is very interesting. How/why did you decide on that presentation format?

“We chose a map for two reasons. Firstly, it was a natural way to catalogue the works because locality is such a key tenet of working-class life and culture. Place and space means a lot to us and people often identify not only with an area, but with a specific road or estate. So it’s a good way to compile things and to make sure people have direct access to the work coming out of their own communities. Secondly, it’ll be a cool interface for the website- people can scroll over their area and see what came out of it. I remember the feeling of discovering “Inchicore Haiku” by Michael Hartnett as a teenager- I was like 14 and thought I was the only poet who’d ever lived there! It gave me a lot of energy.”

Lastly, when should we expect to see the fruition of the Working-Class Writing Archive?

We are planning to launch our website at workingclasswritingarchive.ie in November, with hopefully a live event too. But the archiving project will be ongoing and will bear fruit forever like a lovely apple tree in your grandad’s garden.”

The Working-Class Writing Archive are actively seeking contributors and would love to hear from you if:

  • You’ve ever been part of a writers’ group, community project, adult literacy or education group in a working-class area that put out a pamphlet, collection or book. 
  • You’ve kept papers from someone in your family who wrote creatively. 
  • You’ve been collecting writing, memories or artistic work from your community. 
  • You’re a writer in any form who identifies as working class and you’d like to contribute your work to the archive. 

Get in touch with Emma or Sophie at

  • workingclasswritingarchive@gmail.com
  • or call Emma on 0852313010

The archive can arrange digitisation of papers and books from anywhere in Dublin. Video and audio recordings are also very welcome. 

Follow the project on Twitter: @workingarchive and Instagram @workingclasswritingarchive

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