Local Author Profile - On the Working Class, Writing and the Joys of Jujyfruit
Growing up “working class” in Middletown, Ohio, was a positive for nationally-known author Tamara Draut.
Indeed, for this steelworker’s daughter and 1989 Middletown High grad, it provided a path to college and a future of opportunity.
Specifically, it led to a life’s calling and a writing career focused on the financial decline of that very same working class and the loss of promise it once held for families like hers.
Today, as vice president of policy and research at the national think tank Demos, Tamara Draut studies the plight of the working class and develops policies aimed at alleviating its struggle. She describes Demos, located in New York City, as a “public policy organization that works to address economic, political and racial inequality through policy advocacy, litigation, research and strategic communications…”
Tamara’s commitment to the cause of the working class is revealed in two books she’s written. Both were published by Doubleday.
In “Strapped” (published 2005) she says she “wanted to understand why it had become so much harder for young people to get ahead-- especially young people without college degrees.” In “Sleeping Giant : How the New Working Class Will Transform America” (2016) she “continued to explore the decline in living standards for working class people and what we can and should be doing to ensure all jobs in this country are good jobs and that all work is valued…”
A revised and updated version of the latter book, “Sleeping Giant: the Untapped Economic and Political Power of America’s New Working Class,” is now available in paperback.
For the daughter of Sally Colvin and the late Robert Draut Jr., the quest is personal.
“My interest in this area comes from my own experience growing up working class, being the first in my family to graduate from college, and then working and educating my way into the professional middle class,” says the native Middletonian who attended Rosedale Elementary, Vail Middle and Middletown High schools.
“I realized the opportunities provided to me -- through the earning power of my parents and the low cost of state tuition back then -- were no longer available for a new generation,” she states. “Today working class jobs are underpaid, devalued and non-union, unlike those of my mom and dad’s generation.”
Tamara recalls her father working “at Armco [Steel] his whole life. My mom returned to work as an office manager when my youngest brother entered school. Together, they were able to pay for my tuition, room and board at Ohio University. I graduated in four years with zero debt, and only worked during breaks” waiting tables at Damon’s restaurant.
Tamara graduated from OU in 1993 and moved to New York City the following year.
“My interest in public policy and politics grew out of a deep sense of growing unfairness in American society, and a desire to do something about it,” she says. “I originally worked in advertising, then changed careers to work in public policy.”
After receiving a master’s degree from New York’s Columbia University in 2001, she found like minds at Demos.
Tamara’s passion for the state of America’s working men and women is unrelenting. She states firmly : “This is what I believe about the strivers and dreamers of America : that no matter where we come from or what our color, most of us work hard for our families.
“But today certain politicians and their greedy lobbyists are rigging the rules in their favor by handing kickbacks to the rich, defunding our schools, and rolling back our rights to join together in union in the workplace. Sadly, these same greedy politicians then turn around and point the finger for our hard times at poor families, Black people and new immigrants.
“But we can fight back if we join together. Just like we did when we won better wages, safer workplaces, and civil rights in our past, I believe that by joining together, we can elect new leaders who work for all of us, not just the privileged few. That’s the America I believe in and the one I fight for every day.”
When asked about the process of writing, Tamara admits she finds the experience “agonizing. There’s a famous quote, I believe by Dorothy Parker, that exclaims ‘I hate writing, I love having written.’ That’s how I feel about writing…”
While writing both books, Tamara confronted “pretty intense deadlines -- nine months to one year -- to deliver the first draft…”
“Before I write a word, I do all my research and talk with the folks whose stories I’ll share in the book,” she says. “Once I have all that together, I start writing. I tend to write in long stretches -- maybe four or five hours -- but with lots of little breaks along the way…”
But help is close at hand. “When I’m really burned out and can’t get the words to come out, I reach for my secret weapon : Jujyfruits. They haven’t failed me yet,” she declares.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Tamara admits about the process of writing. “It’s brutal. But it is worth it, especially when I hear from readers that the book touched them in some way.”
Tamara Draut lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, New York. Her research has been covered by dozens of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Her writing has appeared in The Hill, The San Francisco Chronicle, The American Prospect, The Boston Globe and The Boston Review. She is a frequent television commentator and has appeared on the Colbert Report, Today Show, CNN, Fox News, 20/20, MSNBC and many others. (From Demos website).
“Sleeping Giant : How The New Working Class Will Transform America” and “Strapped : Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead” are available at MidPointe Library.