Paper pub. date
January 1999
ISBN 9780870714658 (paperback)
6 x 9 inches, 288 pages. Illus.

A Richer Harvest

The Literature of Work in the Pacific Northwest

W. Tracy Dillon and Craig Wollner

The voices of workers, from logging camps to the Microsoft campus.

This fascinating collection of writings taps a rich vein of Northwest literature. From pioneer journals to union tracts and cyberpunk fiction, the selections gathered here reveal the lives of the Northwest's working people and insights into the nature of work in the region.

With its strong and varied mix of fiction, poems, manifestos, songs, memoirs, and oral histories, A Richer Harvest creates a powerful, sometimes gritty portrait of work life. Selections depict the natural beauty of the land, the rough and perilous employments, the often bloody tradition of labor radicalism, and the reverence for honest, hard work. The writings detail workers' triumphs and frustrations on farms, in forests, on waterways, and in offices, stores, and factories. Many are the observations of laborers themselves; others are the product of writers who gave voice to the concerns of the working class.

The selections are arranged according to three broad themes that trace the evolution of the Northwest's laboring classes. Headnotes introduce each selection, providing historical and literary context.

Contributors include Sherman Alexie, Kim Barnes, Ernest Callenbach, Douglas Coupland, H. L. Davis, Tess Gallagher, Woody Guthrie, Hazel Hall, Joe Hill, Ken Kesey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Craig Lesley, Clyde Rice, and Gary Snyder.

About the author

W. Tracy Dillon is a professor of English at Portland State University.

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Craig Wollner is a professor of Social Science and fellow at the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies at Portland State University. He is the author of several works on Northwest labor, business, and social history.

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Introduction and Acknowledgments

1. Clearing the Ground To the Oregon Emigrants of 1846
Fanny Adams Cooper, West by Train
James Stevens, The Old Warhorse
Orland E. Esval, Member of the Crew
Dennis "Dinny" Murphy, I Found My Likings in the Mines
Clyde Rice, from Nordi's Gift
Sam Churchill, from Big Sam
Woody Guthrie, Big Grand Coolee Dam
Pat Koehler, Reminiscence on the Women Shipbuilders of World War II
Willie Daniels, from Working on the Bomb
Ken Kesey, from Sometimes a Great Notion
Clemens Starck, Putting in Footings
Kate Braid, Girl on the Crew
Kim Barnes, from In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown Country

2. The Industrial Frontier Charles Oluf Olsen, Zero Hour in the Factory
Hazel Hall, Instruction
Francis Seufert, Chinese
H.L. Davis, Steel Gang
Joseph B. Halm, Recollection of the Fires of 1910
The Seattle General Strike of 1919
Charles Vindex, Survival on the High Plains, 1929-1934
Oregon Labor Press, If America Should Go Red?
Ralph Winstead, Johnson the Gypo
Joe Hill, The Preacher and the Slave
Anise, Centralia Pictures
Howard Morgan, Recollection of Tom Burns of Burnside
Hamish Scott MacKay, from My Experiences in the United States
Gary Snyder, The Late Snow and the Lumber Strike of the Summer of Fifty-Four
Robert Wrigley, The Sinking of Clay City
Tess Gallagher, Black Money
Henry Carlile, Graveyard Shift
Joseph Millar, Tax Man
Jesus Maria "El Flaco" Maldonado, Memorias de Cesar Chavez

3. Working Ahead Ernest Callenbach, from Ecotopia
Douglas Coupland, from Generation X
David Axelrod, Skill of the Heart
Craig Lesley, from River Song
Sherman Alexie, from Indian Killer
Kent Anderson, from Night Dogs
Jim Bodeen, Replenishing the Neighborhood
John Rember, from Cheerleaders from Gomorrah
Eileen Gunn, Stable Strategies for Middle Management
Ursula K. Le Guin, from The New Atlantis

Bibliographic Citations and Permissions

The literature of the Pacific Northwest reveals the rich and diverse themes that are the staple ingredients of life in the region. Typically, Northwest writers have reflected the especially close bond of humans to nature, the sense of abundance--of nature, of the human spirit--of the place, and the quest for a temporal paradise--a new Eden on the Pacific shore--that have always been hallmarks of the thinking about the region by its most articulate inhabitants.

An extraordinarily evocative element of this literature, but one that goes largely unappreciated, is the part of it dedicated to portrayals of the pacific Northwest's work life. Among those who have labored on the region's farms, in its forests, on its waterways or in its offices, stores, and factories, mining the ground for precious minerals, fishing the rivers, lakes, and sea, cutting the plentiful timer, making the rich soil yield its bounty, or engaging in commerce, many have thought they were building a paradise inside time--as it were, a new Eden. When the Oregon Spectator extended its welcome "To the Oregon Emigrants of 1846," it did nothing to undermine that view. It promised an end to "weary pilgrimage and toil." The Spectator's anonymous poet painted a picture of "verdant prairie and prolific field, / Rich forest dells, where giant cedars stand,/ Shading fresh treasures yet to be revealed."

The newcomers of 1846 may have been disappointed to find that the Northwest required of them no less effort to subsist than did their points of origin. They and their posterity were forced to grapple with the usual vagaries of human existence in a place just as beset by joys, sorrows, and tedium as every other part of the world. But this land is also one visited by the more than occasional hard rain. And yet, even when wet, it is one enveloped in beauty. So their written observations, those of their posterity, and those of others who have depicted workers' triumphs and frustrations in this place, are coupled with a frequently chaotic and sometimes bloody tradition of labor radicalism and organization. Their accounts of rough and perilous employments, like fishing, mining, and lumbering, of workers, champions of workers, and shrewd observers of the working life, make unique and richly revelatory reading about the character of the region and its people. They add a compelling dimension to our knowledge of the Northwest's literature.

The editors of this anthology, which includes poems, excerpts from short stories and novels, manifestos, songs, memoirs, and oral histories, have tried, in the divergent works collected here, to represent the varied expressions of what it is like to toil triumphantly and sometimes fruitlessly in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

We have divided the selections into three parts with distinct motifs. Section 1, "Clearing the Ground," concerns itself with expressions of optimism. Some selections betray an artlessness, a sense of grand enterprises, of self-identity through toil, of pride in work done well, and of nature seemingly at the service of man. In the second section, "The Industrial Frontier," the pieces display an awakening to a more worldly understanding of the intractability of nature and of humans' inability to master it. Frequently, work involves struggle: struggle between strong and weak, rich and poor, worker and boss; there are even moments when workers are pitted, or pit themselves, against each other. Work, to the voices raised here, is not a celebratory experience but a necessity to be endured. The readings in the third section "Working Ahead," illustrate evolving attitudes toward work that range from the disillusioned to the whimsical. One finds a mix of realism, lively satire, even good-natured wit.

At any stage in the Pacific Northwest's life one can find hope and hopelessness coexisting, bone-weary pessimism and bursting optimism contending, edgy irony and the straightforward embrace of life co-mingling. In the culture of the Pacific Northwest, the literature of work represents not just an expression of a particular geography, but a region of the enigmatic, all-too-human heart.

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