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Modern Job Loss: New Book Shows Long Legacy in Drama, Fiction and Film

August 28, 2018English professor Sherry Linkon’s research interests include American literature and culture as well as working-class studies. The founding president of the Working-Class Studies Association, she edits a weekly blog, Working-Class Perspectives, housed in Georgetown's Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. She also directs the American Studies Program and serves as faculty director for the Writing Curriculum Initiatives.

Book: The Half-Life of Deindustrialization: Working-Class Writing About Economic Restructuring (University of Michigan Press, 2018)

Reason for the book: Linkon developed the idea after conducting a study on the social costs of deindustrialization and noting that a significant body of literature has emerged in the last 20 years showing economic changes since the 1970s – when tens of thousands of American industrial workers lost jobs in factories and mines.

cover of book with words The Half-Life of Deindustrialization Working-Class Wiring about Economic Restructuring Sherry Lee Linkon with photo of construction Her argument: “There’s an emerging genre in American working-class literature – deindustrialization literature – that includes a wide range of contemporary writing, most of it set in deindustrialized communities and all focusing on how economic restructuring affects people.”

Interesting fact: Many of these writers are the children and grandchildren of former autoworkers, steelworkers and miners who recognize the impact of lost jobs on their families and their communities.

Example: Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, the play examines how workers built solidarity across race and gender and how that solidarity can falter as working conditions change.

Why read Linkon's book: “If you want to understand the American working class today, especially the white working class, deindustrialization literature is a great place to begin. For the social scientists, I wanted to show that literature has something to add to the conversation, and for literary scholars, I wanted to show how we need to bring working-class literature up to date.”

Other books: Co-author, Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown (University of Kansas, 2002); co-edited New Working-Class Studies (Cornell University, 2005).

Joined Georgetown faculty: Fall 2012

Previous position: From 1997 to 2012, she was co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University, where she also directed the American Studies Program.