Recommended reading from the Museum of Homelessness by Matt Turtle
Our special exhibition Restless Shadow uncovers Charles Dickens’s tireless work as a campaigner through his journalism, philanthropy and public speeches. Dickens’s classic work of creative non-fiction, ‘Night Walks’ (1860), is one of the most important examples. In it Dickens walks the nocturnal London streets exploring the condition of ‘houselessness’. Here we asked Matt Turtle of the Museum of Homelessness to give his recommendations on that theme for works that came after Dickens. Matt writes:
From John Steinbeck’s evocative descriptions of the Dust Bowl through to Jack London’s apocalyptic visions of London’s East End, homelessness has long held a powerful hold on the minds of writers and readers alike since Charles Dickens was writing.
This is a list of (slightly) lesser known favourites, many of which were written by people experiencing homelessness. All these titles offer a raw and uncompromising look at society across the 20th century and into the present.
The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, W. H. Davies (1908)
This classic of tramping gonzo-literature describes the many voyages of poet W. H. Davies in the UK, Canada and America in the last decade of the 19th Century. Davies’ striking descriptions of his life of wandering and begging is especially brought to life by his descriptions of hardened fellow travellers, ‘boodle jails’ and dreams of the Gold Rush.
Down and out in Paris and London, George Orwell (1933)
George Orwell meets a colourful cast of waiters, reprobates and political radicals in this well-known tale of his life of destitution in Paris and London. His descriptions of singing for your supper and the misery of the work of a plongeur are as memorable as they are disturbing.
Bury me in My Boots, Sally Trench (1968)
This powerful piece of autobiographical reportage captures a world of different social classes amongst London’s post-war homeless. Most vivid are Sally’s accounts of the meths drinkers of the bombed out derries of East London and her encounters with those who sought to alleviate the plight of homelessness people. What is perhaps most striking of all is the repetitive back and forth of the life she leads, as she is slowly drawn into a world beyond the suburban life she knew before.
The Grass Arena, John Healy (1991)
Daniel Day-Lewis wrote the forward to this brutal tale of alcoholism, prison, homelessness and desperation. Now a Penguin classic, Healy’s incredible resilience and ability to face the violence of his past is portrayed with unflinching honesty. Raw and uncompromising, the Grass Arena is not for the feint hearted.
All that is Solid: How the great Housing Disaster defines our times, Danny Dorling (2015)
This forensic investigation into our national obsession powerfully argues that the current political grandstanding around house-building fails to address the wider issues at play – namely an unequal system of distribution that will only be repeated even if we do build more homes. Packed with comprehensively researched facts and piercing insights, this great read cannot help but leave you feeling more knowledgeable about this ever-present issue.
Matt Turtle is the co-founder of The Museum of Homelessness (MoH). This is the first of its kind in the UK. It is being developed by and with people from all walks of life, including those who have been homeless. The MoH community explores the art, history and culture of homelessness to make a difference for homeless people today. It makes the invisible visible through collecting, research, events and exhibitions. MoH does not yet have a building, and instead presents its programme through partnerships such as this.
Restless Shadow: Dickens the Campaigner runs at the Charles Dickens Museum from 9th May to 29th October 2017.
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