Two posts ago I reflected on research, prompted by Tommy Zurhellen’s comments that he loves the research that goes in to this fiction and he can’t imagine being a successful writer without doing research. In my last post, I reflected on the “third dimension” that we should all be trying to achieve in our writing, and I didn’t say it then, but I think that third dimension is most accessible through reading and research. My essay is about a refugee family in Fargo, so I need to re-read the report by Senator Lugar’s office, “Abandoned upon arrival.” I don’t know if I will incorporate it through a direct quotation, paraphrase, or just the mention of the title, which more or less says it all. I also spent about an hour tonight with Barbara Ehrenrich’s Nickel and Dimed. When she spoke on campus last year, about the trials faced by America’s poor, about the high cost of being poor, her words resonated with what I have seen the last 2 or 3 years working with refugee families. They run in to expenses that I don’t have because they are poor. They get eviction notices, often because of mistakes others make, but they know they do not have the resources to relocate. Refugees are not only “abandoned upon arrival” in many cases, but they are abandoned with no money, few resources, and little knowledge of the place they have been sent to. A central theme of my larger work is that they come from an emergency situation, only to find themselves in another emergency situation. Ehrenrich helps me make that point when she writes:
It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition–austere, perhaps but they get by somehow, don’t they? . . . These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment. They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And this is how we should see the poverty of so many millions of low-wage Americans–as a state of emergency.
My work is influenced by Mary Pipher’s The Middle of Everywhere, about refugees in Lincoln NE. She says refugees go from “fire to fire,” which is the working title of my book.
Additional reading, additional research, can lend you a concept, a quotation, even a title. What are you reading as you finish your literacy narrative?