What Things Cost
an anthology for the people
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 03/07/2023
352 Pages, 6.12 x 9.25 x 1.18 in
- Published: March 2023
What Things Cost: an anthology for the people is the first major anthology of labor writing in nearly a century. Here, editors Rebecca Gayle Howell & Ashley M. Jones bring together more than one hundred contemporary writers singing out from the corners of the 99 Percent, each telling their own truth of today's economy.
In his final days, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a "multiracial coalition of the working poor." King hoped this coalition would become the next civil rights movement but he was assassinated before he could see it emerge as the Poor People's Campaign, now led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. King's last lesson—about the dangers of dividing working people—inspired the conversation gathered here by Jones and Howell.
Fifty-five years after the assassination of King, What Things Cost collects stories that are honest, provocative, and galvanizing, sharing the hidden costs of labor and laboring in the United States of America. Voices such as Sonia Sanchez, Faisal Mohyuddin, Natalie Diaz, Ocean Vuong, Silas House, Sonia Guiñansaca, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Victoria Chang, Crystal Wilkinson, Gerald Stern, and Jericho Brown weave together the living stories of the campaign's broad swath of supporters, creating a literary tapestry that depicts the struggle and solidarity behind the work of building a more just America.
I. When Will You Learn My Name?
II. Just Don't Never Give up on Love
III. Blood and Bones
IV. Every One of Us: Owned
V. We Shift/We Wield/We Bury
VI.This Is My One and Only Life
VII. Something Necessary to Give
Notes & Acknowledgements
This galvanizing anthology of poetry and short prose highlights experiences of economic exploitation and finds common ground across the working class. The editors' introduction contextualizes the anthology within a larger labor movement inspired by the Poor People's Campaign popularized by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, which was reestablished in 2018 to prioritize the needs of the 140 million poor and low-income people in the U.S. Diverse perspectives capture individual struggles of the immigrants, nonwhite people, and impoverished workers who make society function, as in Sonia Guiñansaca's poem "America Runs on Immigrants," which concludes, "America screams Go Back To Your Country, Stop Stealing Our Jobs and simultaneously whines Where is my lunch?" Other poems, such as Curtis Bauer's "Dispatch Out of a Language I Used to Speak," illustrate how the body can be consumed in the mechanical processes of labor: "Stories of kids and men if not drowning in grain/ being caught in the center auger and the one outside/ knowing something was wrong before the corn/ stopped coming, by the corn turned red." Danez Smith puts it succinctly in their poem "C.R.E.A.M": "what cost more than being American and poor?" This is a memorable and timely book.~Publishers Weekly (starred review)
I just left a union meeting in Franklin, Pennsylvania, where Ironworkers were thanking the rest of the labor movement for supporting them during a recent strike. At the core of solidarity is a mix of kindness and courage, rooted in shared vulnerability. And that's exactly what I feel when I read What Things Cost. The stories, confessions, elegies, and authenticities in this book transcend generations and demographics, and feel just as familiar here in Franklin, Pennsylvania, as they will in every corner of every community where work happens.~Stephen Cousins, National Field Director for the AFL-CIO
This gorgeous anthology, What Things Cost, sets to singing the profound dignity of folk too far in the margins of our everyday consciousness. Here, in the figures and rhythms of poetry, one hears and feels both their nobility and disenfranchisement, yet, too, a mighty provocation of truth-telling in song that tilts the world toward parity and justice.~Major Jackson, poet and professor of English at Vanderbilt University
Damn, I cannot shake this book. Traversing an awe-inspiring kaleidoscope of aesthetics and perspectives, What Things Cost is a vital, heartbreaking, and finely curated investigation of the cost of physical and spiritual commodification.~William Johnson, PEN Across America Program Director, PEN America