People’s Culture and West End Press

“Well. How can we show that America was built by the people?”

— Meridel Le Sueur

West End Press formed in 1976 with the support of Meridel Le Sueur, one of the leading figures in the people’s culture movement from the thirties. She believed that an alliance of working people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds represented the hope of America. Her stories and novels, full of distinctly human gestures and deeds, reflected the aspirations of the American underclass as the true genius of the nation. Our task, she believed, was to represent these voices.

The Girl by Meridel Le Sueur

Among the first publications of West End Press were two volumes of Le Sueur’s stories, Harvest (1976) and Song for My Time (1976), and her depression-era novel, The Girl (1978).

Our other early books by working-class writers included Drophammer, a play set in a factory by Emanuel Fried (1977); Story of Glass, poems by Pittsburgh glass worker Peter Oresick (1977); and Ransack, the story of a young man on a wrecking crew in Cincinnati by Mike Henson (1980).

Ransack by Mike Henson

Younger Writers

We also published first volumes of poetry by young writers of diverse backgrounds. These included Take One Blood Red Rose by Appalachian poet Mary Joan Coleman; Lift These Shadows from My Eyes by African American poet Rosemary Mealy; We Will Make a River by Tulsa poet-activist, and minister Mary MacAnally; and Speaking in Sign by Oklahoma poet Teresa Anderson. All these books were published in 1978.

Teresa Anderson translated the posthumous volume by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, A Call for the Destruction of Nixon (1980), in the book’s authorized edition. Writing in 1973, Neruda foresaw the fascist coup that resulted in the murder of Chilean president Salvador Allende and hastened his own death in September of that year.

Don West to Sharon Doubiago

Hard Country by Sharon Doubiago

Around the same time we published In a Land of Plenty, poems and tracts by the Appalachian farmer, preacher, and educator Don West (1982), and If You Want To Know What We Are, the collected stories, essays, and poems of Filipino American activist Carlos Bulosan (1983). We also published a pamphlet of poems by radical poet Thomas McGrath, Longshot O’Leary Counsels Direct Action (1983).

Our concern with peoples culture helped open us to the literature of personal experience. Meridel Le Sueur introduced us to Sharon Doubiago; we published her epic poem Hard Country (1982). The book won praise from many quarters. Carolyn Forche wrote, “Sharon Doubiago is a complex of occasions, a brilliant response to Whitman, an American poet, free, spiritual, and gifted.” Doubiago’s recently released two-volume memoir My Father’s Love is a stirring memoir of her own traumatic history.