While writing The Seed: Infertility Is a Feminist Issue, something I did partly while parenting my newborn son—different experiences, but both very much “work”—I became fixated on the idea of work and how work makes us as we labour. Since then, I’ve been reading everything I can about jobs: jobs (like parenting!), lauded jobs, thankless jobs, jobs that encapsulate the villainy that is the modern gig economy—jobs done by different people in different eras, with varying obstacles and rewards. These nonfiction books are still on my to-read list, and I’m excited to find out what they have to say about work and how it changes us and the culture around us.
Work!: A Queer History of Modeling by Elspeth H Brown
Queer labour is the hidden generator of most pop culture, and while the work of gay male fashion designers has been lauded, the innovations and sheer labour of queer models, many of them models of colour, remains invisible. Brown brings their stories into the public eye, showing how not only queer models, but queerness itself, shaped current ideas about glamour and sexuality.
They Call Me George: The Untold Story of The Black Train Porters by Cecil Foster
I’m always interested in intimate stories that point to larger shifts in society and politics, so I’m stoked for this one. Cecil Foster unearths the hidden histories of Canada’s black pullmen, or train porters, and explores how their employment on the country’s rail lines reflected—and eventually changed—national policies and attitudes towards Blackness, immigration, and multiculturalism.
Dirty Work: My Gruelling, Glorious, Life-changing Summer In the Wilderness by Anna Maxymiw
This book is about the author’s summer job as the housekeeper of a fishing lodge in Northern Ontario when she was 23, so I expect it will have a lot of the colourful characters and lush flora/fauna I remember from my own summers in rural Northern Ontario when I was a kid. Physical-job-as-personal-transformation is something of a genre now, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Maxymiw spins the conventions.
Sister Writes, Issue 3.2 (The Work Issue)
Toronto not-for-profit Sister Writes, which provides free writing instruction and mentorship to new and low-income women in the city, does a magazine of student work, and their newest issue is about work. Women’s labour has always been undercompensated and acknowledged (if at all) and I think younger women have been hit particularly hard by the rise of the gig economy, so I’m interested in seeing what this group of lesser-known writers have to say about their experiences with work and gender.