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Writing About Poverty

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A terrific review essay by my colleague Monica Potts:

Articles about poverty that are just a catalog of hard times are so prevalent that Dwight Macdonald, writing in The New Yorker in 1963, thought it was inherent to the exercise: “There is a monotony about the injustices suffered by the poor that perhaps accounts for the lack of interest the rest of society shows in them. Everything seems to go wrong with them. They never win. It’s just boring.” But it doesn’t need to be so. Instead of a litany of miseries, reporting on the poor could offer deeply textured portraits that instead revealed them to be humans just like the rest of us—an approach that should build a sense of commonality and make readers question their own assumptions about the country they live in. We shouldn’t feel pity but a sense of citizenship, of kinship, that leads to empathy. Even Americans who don’t identify themselves as poor know how it feels to be broke, to need or want something they can’t afford, or to be underpaid or lose a job. If not, they can imagine these feelings without too much of a stretch. The grind of facing such disappointments day after day is what needs to be

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communicated through writing, and readers should begin to recognize the people they’re meeting on the page, even if they don’t necessarily like them

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