Compiled by Shirley Truong, Harmony Reppond, Lina Chhun and Larry Gainor
The following list includes works of fiction that are focused on social class in the United States. This list only includes works published since 1950.
Alexie, S. (1995/2005). Reservation blues. New York, NY: Grove Press. Reservation Blues explores the effects of Christianity and cultural assimilation on Native American life.
Alexie, S. (1993/2005). The Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfight in heaven. New York, NY: Grove Press. Short stories centered on two young Native American men living on a Spokane Indian Reservation.
Allen, P. G. (1983). The woman who owned the shadows. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books. The story focuses on an American Indian woman in New Mexico who reaches a crisis in her life and leaves for a new life in San Francisco.
Allison, D. (1992/2005). Bastard out of Carolina. New York, NY: Dutton.This novel takes place in South Carolina and centers on the life of Ruth Anne Boatwright (known as Bone), who is born to a poor, lone mother and struggles with various relationships.
Arnow, H. (1954/2003). The dollmaker. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.Arnow's novel focuses on Gertie Nevels, a strong woman and mother, who struggles to keep her family together amidst war and poverty.
Baldwin, J. (1953/2001). Go tell it on the mountain. New York, NY: Penguin Books.About John Grimes, a 14 year old boy who bares the secret of a tormented black family living in Harlem during the Depression.
Baldwin, J. (1974/2006). If Beale Street could talk. New York, NY: Vintage. This novel questions the concepts of justice and punishment through the story of a talented young artist who finds himself unjustly arrested and locked away in New York's infamous Tombs prison. His pregnant girlfriend is determined to free him.
Banks, R. (1985/2000). Continental drift. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. The novel reflects the spiritual yearning and materialistic frenzy of contemporary life.
Boyle, T. C. (1995/2004). The tortilla curtain. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.The Mossbachers are wealthy, white, suburban homeowners living in a gated hilltop community, while the Rincóns are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, living in a makeshift camp deep in the ravine. Their opposing worlds gradually intersect after a freak accident brings together the two couples.
Brown, C. (1965/1999). Manchild in the promised land. New York, NY: Macmillan. A fictionalized account of Claude Brown's harrowing childhood of violent crime and poverty in Harlem.
Brown, L. (2003). Joe: A novel. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Joe depicts the lives of poor Southerners, who struggle to get by daily and live in run-down shacks and shabby mobile homes.
Chute, C. (1985/1995). The Beans of Egypt, Maine. New York, NY: Harvest Books.The Beans are a Maine backwoods family living in extreme poverty, but they persevere when challenged by hardship and violence.
Chute. C. (1995). Letourneau's used auto parts. New York, NY: Harvest Books.Set in a poverty-stricken community in Maine, Big Lucien Letourneau runs the auto salvage junkyard where most of the men work. Letourneau is a compassionate man who helps his ex-wives and children, the poor, destitute and elderly with humanity and dignity.
Clark, N. (2003). The hills at home: A novel. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.The story takes place in a small community north of Boston, where various members of a family gather for shelter and support during an unsettled period in their lives.
Coles, R., Testa, R., & Coles, M. H. (2001). Growing up poor: A literary anthology. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
This book is a collection of poems, stories and essays of people living in poverty, from different ages, geographical locations, and historical periods. It is thematically organized into four sections: the material circumstances of poverty, stereotypes and attributions that people who live in poverty encounter, the working poor and stories of resiliency.
- Ellison, R. (1952/2002). Invisible man. New York, NY: Random House. Invisible Man chronicles the travels of its narrator, a young black man, as he moves through the many levels of American intolerance and cultural blindness.
Erdrich, L. (1984/1993). Love medicine: A novel. New York, NY: Harper Perennial. Love Medicine reveals the interconnectedness of two Native American families, through first- and third-person narratives, who are affected by loss of cultural identity, government policies, poverty and alcoholism.
Gardner, J. (1972). The sunlight dialogues. New York, NY: Knopf. The Sunlight Dialogues is set in a small rural town in New York and discusses America in the turbulent 1960s with a cast of unconventional, vulnerable and conflicting characters who share similar states of isolation and longing.
Giardina, D. (1987/1999). Storming heaven. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.The story takes place in the hills of Appalachia where coal companies have taken the land and many of the men in the towns are forced to work in the mines and are cheated out of their pay, while their families experience starvation, malaria and dysentery. Slowly, they begin fighting back.
Giardina, D. (1992/1994). The unquiet earth. Canada: Ivy Books. In a coal mining town in West Virginia, union-busting by coal companies and the federal government keeps workers in check with threats of violence. The story portrays the relationship of coal mining families with nature and how they deal with the individuals who have a strong grip on their lives.
Grayson, E. (1999). The gazebo: A novel. New York, NY: Harper Collins. Two lovers with seemingly insurmountable social class differences have met once a year for fifty years at the gazebo in the square of a small town, but this year, they do not show, and it is up to Abby Reston, the local newspaper editor, to piece together the puzzle of these two lovers.
Hansberry, L. (1959/1994). A raisin in the sun. New York, NY: Vintage. A Raisin in the Sun is a play about the Youngers, a struggling African-American family living in the Chicago housing projects. The family members deal with poverty, racism and painful conflict among themselves as they strive for a better life.
Harrison, L. (2004). The clique: A novel. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company. Westchester, New York's most privileged middle school girls have an elite, hierarchical club called the Pretty Committee where the members must be pretty as well as rich. Most members are rich, and those who aren't pretend as though they are.
Kincaid, J. (1990/2002). Lucy. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In this novel we meet Lucy: a teenage girl from the West Indies who comes to North America to work as an au pair for a wealthy couple and their four children. Almost at once, Lucy begins to notice cracks in their beautiful facade.
Lee, M. J. (2007). Free food for millionaires. New York, NY: Warner Books. Casey Han, the child of immigrant Korean parents, is a 22-year old Princeton graduate who has trouble finding a job and is kicked out of her parents' home. As she navigates Manhattan, we see its world of haves and have-nots, with daunting themes of love, money, race, and belief systems.
Little, B. (1996). Good hair: A novel. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Alice Lee, a middle-class African-American woman, finds her values are called into question when she somewhat reluctantly falls in love with surgeon Jack Russworm, a millionaire. This novel explores upper-class African-American culture as Alice struggles to be who she is while trying to fit an image of who she should be.
McMillan, T. (1987/1991). Mama. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.In Mama, Terry McMillan tells the story of Mildred Peacock, a proud black woman, who throws her drunken husband out of the house after a violent fight. Now on her own, Mildred struggles to raise her five children, while working and going on welfare.
Mills, M. (2005). Amagansett. New York, NY: Berkley Trade. The murder of a wealthy New York woman, discovered by fisherman Conrad Labarde, reveals the discord between the privileged who summer at beachfront houses and the men who live and work at the shore.
Morrison, T. (1981/2004). Tar baby. New York, NY: Vintage Tar Baby tells the story of Jadine Childs, a black fashion model with a white patron and a white boyfriend and Son, a black fugitive who embodies all Jadine loathes and desires. In this novel, their relationship spans from the Caribbean to Manhattan and the deep South.
Mosley, W. (2006). Fortunate son: A novel. Boston, MA: Back Bay Books. Fortunate Son follows the lives of two boys who are vastly different from one another — Tommy, who is pitied and suffers major health problems, and his stepbrother, Eric, a charming, well-liked star athlete. After tragedy breaks apart their family, the lives of these boys take different paths, with each confronting the challenges in their lives.
Naylor, G. (1983). The women of Brewster Place. New York, NY: Penguin. The Women of Brewster Place depicts seven courageous black women struggling to survive life's harsh realities. It chronicles the communal strength of the diverse women who live in run-down rental homes in a secluded, urban neighborhood.
Naylor, G. (1986). Linden hills. New York, NY: Penguin. Linden Hills , is loosely based on Dante's Inferno, but the hell created is in an African-American middle-class neighborhood. The novel is a critical perspective of the African-American middle class that sacrifices their racial identity for material success.
Neely, B. (1994). Blanche among the talented tenth. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.Blanche White visits her children at their private school in Amber Cove, an exclusive, all-black resort in Maine, where she can observe them with their wealthy friends. Here she gains an insider's view of the color and class divisions within the black community.
O'Dell, T. (2007). Sister mine: A novel. New York, NY: Shaye Areheart Books. Sister Mine centers on Shae-Lynn Penrose, who has overcome an abusive childhood and a teenage pregnancy to finish college, work as a police officer, raise her son alone, and return to her coal mining hometown of Jolly Mount, Pennsylvania. Then Shannon, the younger sister Shae-Lynn thought was long dead, shows up.
Price, R. (1976/1999). Blood brothers. Boston, MA: Mariner Books. Blood Brothers recounts the story of Stony De Coco, an eighteen-year old boy growing up in a working-class environment. Stony's father is a construction worker who expects his son to follow in his footsteps, but Stony is determined to break loose from this life despite opposition from everyone else in his family.
Price, R. (1992/2001). Clockers. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. Clockers immerses the reader in the drug culture of inner-city housing projects. The novel is both an intense mystery and a revealing study of two men, a veteran homicide detective and a young African American man with a steady job and a clean record, but who has confessed to a shooting outside a fast-food restaurant.
- Price, R. (2008). Lush life: A novel. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.In Lush Life, Richard Price exposes the hidden cracks of the "new" New York, a New York of underground networks of control and violence. In this novel, we meet two different men, Eric Cash, a thirty-five year old living on the Lower East Side, serving those he desired to be, and Ike Marcus, a young man going places; their lives become intertwined after one night.
Rivera, T. (1987). ...y no se lo tragó la tierra /...And the earth did not devour him. (T. Rivera & E. Vigil-Piñón, Trans.). Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press. (Original work published 1971).This book tells its stories through the eyes of a young boy, the child of poor, migrant farm workers. The stories communicate the community's ability to come together to help one another survive and also stories that depict the pressures inflicted on relationships by the hardship of their lives.
Russo, R. (2001/2005). Empire falls. New York, NY: Vintage. This novel explores the lives of working-class characters living in the dead-end, small town of Empire Falls, Maine.
Segal, E. (1988). Love story. New York, NY: HarperTorch.It is the story of two young people from different worlds — Oliver Barrett IV, a wealthy Harvard jock and heir to the Barrett fortune and legacy, and Jennifer Cavilleri, daughter of a Cranston, Rhode Island baker, with not much money, but lots of love. The novel follows them as they encounter different obstacles as their love grows strong and deep.
Sheehan, S. (1984). Kate Quinton's days. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.Kate is a woman in a nursing home caught in a bureaucratic cycle of Medicare while she tries to qualify for at-home assistance so that she can leave the nursing home.
Sheehan, S. (1994). Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. New York, NY: Vintage.This Pulitzer Prize winning author tells the story of a black family's experience with the foster care system in New York City.
Sittenfeld, C. (2005). Prep: A novel. New York, NY: Random House. Prep chronicles the coming-of-age of Lee Fiora, a South Bend, Indiana, teenager who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Ault School, an East Coast institution where the presence of money on campus was as obvious as it was understated.
Vachon, D. (2007). Merger & acquisitions. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. Mergers & Acquisitions is the story of Tommy Quinn, a recent Georgetown graduate who has acquired the job of his dreams as an investment banker, and the perfect girl, Frances Sloan, the daughter of one of New York's elite families. As we follow Tommy through the novel, we discover that that the job and the girl are not what they once seemed.
Viramontes, H. M. (1996). Under the feet of Jesus. New York, NY: Plume.
The story focuses on one migrant family working in California's fruit fields. The novel centers primarily around Estrella, a young girl, and her relationship with Alejo, another migrant worker of the same age.
- West, D. (1995/1997). The wedding. London, United Kingdom: Virago Press Limited. The Wedding opens with preparation for the marriage of Shelby Coles, the daughter of one of the most admired couples in the Oval—the exclusive black community of Martha's Vineyard—to white jazz musician Meade Wyler. Shelby's choice of fiancé brings a range of dormant and unresolved issues to the fore in this novel of an upper-class black family.
Wolfe, T. (2004). I am Charlotte Simmons: A novel. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I am Charlotte Simmons is the story of a first year college student, Charlotte Simmons, who is from a poverty-stricken rural town, and her first semester at the prestigious Dupont University. Despite the university's scholarly reputation, the student culture is focused upon gaining material wealth, physical pleasure and social status.
Woodrell, D. (1998). Tomato red: A novel. New York, NY: H. Holt. Tomato Red explores the bonds between Sammy Barlach, an ex-convict who tries to do the right thing, and the Merridews: Bev, the prostitute/mom; Jason, the stylish son; and Jamalee, the feisty redhead who wants to use anyone and anything to get out of Venus Holler, Missouri.
Woodrell, D. (2006). Winter's bone: A novel. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.Rees Dolly, 17, struggles daily to care for her two brothers and an ill mother in the poverty-stricken hills of the Ozarks. When she learns that her absent father, a meth addict, has put up the family home as bond, she sets out to find him and bring him home for an upcoming court date.