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Unstrung Letter V – Finding Vagabonds: in Literature and in Life

Unstrung Letter V – Finding Vagabonds: in Literature and in Life

Unstrung Letters continuing its unending battle to discuss serious things in the least-serious way possible. This month Helen Cusack O’Keeffe, writer with an extensive background working with the NHS, tried to address questions like: Why are we as writers often fascinated with people who exist on the margins of polite society? What psychic functions do homeless people play in our world view, and can we fully understand something as profoundly life-affecting as sleeping rough on the city streets, if we have no direct experience of it?

After a historical survey of what the legal homeless condition means throughout the world (in part 1), she then considered some classic treatments of this theme by Orwell, Hamsun and Gorky, in addition to some more recent ones, eg. Alexander Masters’ Stuart’s A Life Backwards. Throughout her presentation, she referenced her ten year experience spent working in a psychiatric outreach team for homeless people in London.

As always, the audience brought a sharp mind ready to be engaged in discussion and dulled by beer.

Listen to Helen’s presentation (part 1):

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Listen to Helen’s presentation (part 2):

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