SMC Professor Julia Stein Releases New Book

Poetry writer, editor, SMC English professor and labor activist Julia Stein held the first reading of her new poetry anthology "Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Factory Fire Poems" at Beyond Baroque in Venice this past Sunday. This year is the 100-year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fires that killed 146 employees at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York. The victims were mostly immigrant women and children who were not able to make it out from the locked doors of the factory when the fire broke loose.

Stein's readings are a part of Los Angeles Laborfest and Remember the Triangle Coalition, an organization that will arrange 50 events this year to remember the fire.

Stein's grandmother was a sweatshop employee in 1911, when the fires took place. She explains how her grandmother had been a teenage garment worker at a sweatshop in Pittsburgh. "There were four children and she supported the whole family," said Stein.

Issues regarding labor rights are constantly present, "It is hard times for labor nationally and L.A. reflects that," said Stein.

As an anti-sweatshop activist, she is a part of L.A. Laborfest which will hold an additional reading of the anthology on Friday, March 18, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. at the Skylight Bookstore in Los Feliz.

The poems are put together in chronological order, organized like a play. They are from a variety of poets and depict different aspects of the event. From the fire until years after, the poems tell vivid stories about labor abuse.

"I grew up hearing about the fires," said poet Alice Rogoff. "I identified with the girls, it could have been me." Rogoff is one of the contributors to the readings and she finishes by emphasizing on today's sweatshop industry.

Andy Griggs, who is a retired elementary school teacher and helps organize L.A. Laborfest, points out how much of an issue labor abuse still is. "A hundred years of labor history, but it's still happening all over the place. Look at Wisconsin!"

Stein herself contributes two of the 15 poems in the anthology and Rogoff contributes one. A total of nine poets' works have been put together for this anthology.

Stein has been writing poetry for 40 years, has published two previous poetry books and has also defeated a lawsuit brought on by Guess Jeans for her anti-sweatshop activism.

The owners of the Triangle factory were never convicted but the fire started a new level of labor activism in the United States, and the fight for labor rights is as intense today as it was one hundred years ago.