Champion of the forgotten underclass

Joe with younger brother Mike, 1951

(This interview with Joe Bageant by Patrick Ward first appeared in the November 2010 issue of UK's Socialist Review. In his previous book, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, Bageant took on the media's portrayal of the "redneck" community he grew up in. Here, he talks about his second book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir.)


Interview by Patrick Ward 

How has the community you grew up in changed today?

Today there are the old ones who remember, but they're dying. There are people in my generation, but we ain't spring chickens ourselves. Then there is a small contingent of hippies who moved there to look after the land. They are wonderful. Then there are a lot of well to do people from Washington DC who have their hobby farms. The closest ancient old town, George Washington's Bathtub, is very fortunate that the gay community took it up as a place to come on weekends or to buy up little farms. But the average person is definitely among the high unemployed. The county I describe is one of the richest in West Virginia. Can you imagine what the poorest are like? They are goddamn horrible.

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My Brother Joe

By Tony Sutton

Reader Joe Bageant was my brother. Not in a literal sense, of course: we came from different countries, although with similar rural backgrounds, he from Virginia, I from Lincolnshire in England.

Nor do I have any need for a surrogate brother, having five real ones, including a twin. Joe was my intellectual brother: we cared about the same things, shared the same, socialist, dreams and loved to articulate the thoughts that most men keep to themselves. The rhetoric did, occasionally, drift into the fanciful, such as the time he confided his plans for the future to my wife Jools and I over a well-liquored dinner at his home in Winchester, Virginia. At the time Joe was splitting his life between there and Belize, but the latter haven was becoming too small for him. “I’m off to India,” he said, “to talk to the wise and holy men in the mountains and on the plains. And, in a few years, when I die, I’m going to be cremated in a blazing barge on the Ganges.” Me? I’d be happy for my remains to be packed in a refuse bag and dumped on a wooded slope back home in England, I replied.

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Other languages

Some of the works of Joe Bageant have been translated into Spanish, Italian, German and French. Other translations are under consideration.

Essais par Joe Bageant en français.

Spanish and Italian
versions of
Deer Hunting with Jesus

Versiones en español




Crónicas de la América profunda
Escenas de la lucha de clases en el corazon del imperio 



También está disponible en Amazon EE.UU.

Versione italiana



La Bibbia e il fucile
Cronache dall’America profonda

Amazon Italia

Disponibile anche su Amazon Regno Unito






Deutsch Version

De180Auf Rehwildjagd mit Jesus
Meldungen aus dem amerikanischen Klassenkampf

Erhältlich über Amazon Deutschland.


Lost in the American Undertow

The following is the introduction to Joe Bageant's newly released book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir

Did you ever stand and shiver, because you was lookin’ in a river …?

— Folksinger Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

By Joe Bageant

Rain150 The United States has always maintained a white underclass — citizens whose role in the greater scheme of things has been to cushion national economic shocks through the disposability of their labor, with occasional time off to serve as bullet magnets in defense of the Empire. Until the post-World War II era, the existence of such an underclass was widely acknowledged. During the Civil War, for instance, many northern abolitionists also called for the liberation of “four million miserable white southerners held in bondage by the wealthy planter class”. Planter elites, who often held several large plantations which, together, constituted much or most of a county’s economy, saw to it that poor whites got no schooling, money, or political power. Poll taxes and literacy requirements kept white subsistence farmers and poor laborers from entering voting booths. Often accounting for up to 70 percent of many deep-Southern counties, they could not vote, and thus could never challenge the status quo.

Today, almost nobody in the social sciences seems willing to touch the subject of America’s large white underclass; or, being firmly placed in the true middle class themselves, can even agree that such a thing exists. Apparently, you can’t smell the rabble from the putting green.

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The Permanent White Underclass

A review of Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir

By Gary Corseri

Lose all your troubles, kick up some sand
And follow me, buddy, to the Promised Land.
I’m here to tell you, and I wouldn’t lie,
You’ll wear ten-dollar shoes and eat rainbow pie.
— “The Sugar Dumpling Line,” American hobo song.

Joe-lap “Today, almost nobody in the social sciences seems willing to touch the subject of America’s large white underclass,” writes Joe Bageant on page 2 of his second book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir.

So what’s this self-professed and proud-of-it “redneck” do? This memoirist combination John Steinbeck, Michael Harrington, Henry Thoreau — with a funny bone to wallop your gut — what’s he do but produce the best book on the unsung 60 million (cozened to vote against their own self-interest, fodder for corporations’ wars) — write the best book on them that anyone of his generation has written!

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Joe Bageant’s Option for Hillbillies

By Michael Loughnane
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 

“Poet”, “prophet”, “hillbilly revolutionary”, “progressive redneck with a conscience” — these are some of the descriptive terms that have been conferred on Joe Bageant who died on March 26. Steve Austin of the Australian Broadcasting Company called him “The Woody Guthrie of the typewriter” for he championed the cause of the “redneck”, a social group he saw as being one of the most marginalized and disenfranchised in America.

Joe was a man of wisdom, intelligence and penetrating insight, but what made him really special was his warm, wry — sometimes acerbic — sense of humor and his direct no-frills honesty. He was also, in my view, a kind of a genuine working class liberation theologian — at least he would have been had he believed in God!

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Joe’s Essays

Below is a linked list of all online essays by Joe Bageant.

December 2010

Algorithms and Red Wine
October 2010

Understanding America’s Class System
August 2010

Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball
July 2010

Live from Planet Norte
June 2010

Lost on the Fearless Plain
May 2010

Cantina Tolteca
March 2010

From Wall Street to Skank Street
March 2010

Moon Over Gringo Gulch
March 2010

Round Midnight: Tortillas and the Corporate State
February 2010

The Annotated Obama
January 2010

Bass Boats and Queer Marriage
January 2010

Taking Tea with the Lizards
January 2010

The Devil and Mr. Obama
December 2009

The Iron Cheer of Empire
October 2009

Obama’s Fight for Reform
August 2009

How much freedom can one man stand?
August 2009

The Entertainment Value of Snuffing Grandma
August 2009

Corporations Are Now After Our Very Beings
August 2009

A Yard Sale in Chernobyl
August 2009

The Bastards Never Die
July 2009

America’s White Underclass
July 2009

Worker rights: No balls, no gains
June 2009

Escape from the Zombie Food Court
April 2009

Skinny Dipping in Reality
February 2009

A Commodity Called Misery
February 2009

North Toward Home
January 2009

The Sucker Bait Called Hope
November 2008

The Audacity of Depression
April 2008

Nine Billion Little Feet
February 2008

Crime, Punishment and the Efficacy of Pigs
January 2008

Getting Out the Bling Vote
January 2008

To the Princes of Gringolia
October 2007

Family and Dignity During Hurricane Dean
August 2007

The Great American Media Mind Warp
July 2007

The Ants of Gaia
July 2007

Smirking Allies: Nazi Brown and Kevlar Black
June 2007

Recruiting Trench Liberals and Leftnecks
June 2007

Dead Man Shopping
June 2007

Ghosts of Tim Leary and Hunter Thompson
May 2007

Rising Above Politics
April 2007

Redneck Liberation Theology
April 2007

Three Nights in Philly
pril 2007

A Feral Dog Howls in Harvard Yard
April 2007

In the Reign of the One-nutted King
March 2007

Escape from America
February 2007

Dispatch from the Chinese Landfill
January 2007

Somewhere a Banker Smiles
December 2006

Pissing in the Liberal Punchbowl Again
November 2006

Madmen and Sedatives: Inside the Iron Theater
September 2006

Roy’s People
September 2006

Adam Smith Meets Cousin Ronnie’s Boy
July 2006

The Beauty of the System
July 2007

Contemplations from the Cheap Beer Zone
July 2006

Thank Heaven for 7-Eleven
June 2006

Under the Blue Mango
May 2006

Springtime in the Republic of Larry
April 2006

Welcome to Middle-Class Lockdown
February 2006

Goodbye Terry Gross, We Niver Knew Ye
January 2006

Revenge of the Mutt People
January 2006

The Simulacran Republic
December 2005

What the ‘Left Behind’ Series Really Means
December 2005

One Last Kick at Liberal Dogs
May 2005

Free People Do Bad Things
May 2005

Carpooling with Adolf Eichmann
May 2005

Back to the Ancient Future
April 2005

The Onion Eater
April 2005

Let’s Drink to the Slobbering Classes
April 2005

In Praise of Holy Madness
April 2005

Finding Jesus at the Cracker Barrel
March 2005

A Republic of Pickle Vendors
March 2005

It Ain’t Easy Being White
March 2005

Poor, White and Pissed
February 2005

Drink, Pray, Fight, Fuck
January 2005

A Mean and Unholy Ditch
January 2005

Dining With the Rhinos
December 2004

Hung Over in the End Times
November 2004

Lafayette Park Blues
October 2004

Karaoke Night in George Bush’s America
September 2004

Driving on the Bones of God
August 2004

Cranky Reflections on the Fourth of July
July 2004

Is Our President a Wackjob?
July 2004

Sons of a Laboring God
June 2004

Mash Note for the ‘Girl with the Leash’
June 2004

The Covert Kingdom
May 2004

Staring Down the Jackals
May 2004

John Ashcroft, Keep Your Mouth Off My Wife!
May 2004

Sleepwalking to Fallujah
April 2004

Howling in the Belly of the Confederacy
March 2004


Rainbow Pie: Attention Must Be Paid

By Bob Kincaid
Head On Radio Network

Rain150 Let me be up front about things: I want you to buy Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. I want you to buy it not because I have any financial interest in it. I don't. I want you to buy this book because it is a magnificent memorial both by and to one of the best American writers of the waning of the 20th and dawning of the 21st centuries. I want you to buy this book because, as the line from "Death of a Salesman" notes, "Attention must be paid".

I met Joe Bageant online in 2007. After reading Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War and many of his essays online, I sought Joe out for an on-air interview, which he gave me with what I came to know as his characteristic great good humor. From that conversation (the only one in which I have given over an entire show to a guest) forward, I knew I had a friend and comrade. Our conversations thereafter only cemented that understanding.

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Joe Bageant: Poet, Redneck Revolutionary, R.I.P.

Joe1_thumbJoe in Hopkins Village, Belize

By Marc Campbell

Joe Bageant was an extraordinarily gifted writer and thinker. Author of Deer Hunting with Jesus and countless essays and editorials on politics and society, Joe was a champion of human rights and a fearless critic of our government’s mistreatment of its working class. His writing is imbued with compassion but also a caustic wit that laid bare the working class’s tendency to do what is in their own worst interests. Watching Joe tear into the Teabaggers was like watching an extremely large feral cat play with its food. His death comes at a time when his voice is needed more than ever. I’m not sure there’s anyone out there that can fill the void.

This is not an obituary. I’m not trying to give the reader an overview of Joe’s life in a few paragraphs. I am sharing a few of my memories of Joe as a friend and writer.

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Small Talk

Gary Corseri was a good friend of Joe’s. This poem was originally published in Poets’ Basement, September 2008.

By Gary Corseri

In memoriam, for Joe Bageant, 1946-2011

This one—tack-witted, sharp of tongue—

thinks he’ll die soon, and so,

smokes on (although he loves his wife).


He has made peace at 62 (my age)

with demons, destiny, and even

the C.O.P.D. that will

kick him in.

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