How to Make a Queer: The Erotics of Begging; or, Down and Out in the Great Depression

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Across the fiction and poetry of the Great Depression, when the focus turns to men on the down and out, unable to find work and not knowing where they will find their next meal or place to sleep, a series of representative scenes reappears from one now often-forgotten story, novel, and poem to another. Collectively such scenes, recurring across the literature of the 1930s, offer something like a cousinly alternative, on a far smaller scale, to the 1930s ascendency of documentary and the 1920s and 1930s movement for a proletarian literature. Stories of begging for money or food, for example, took a variety of forms, and they also took on erotic connotations. This article reads the erotics of begging in little-known literature from the Great Depression, especially Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing (1935), and argues that when a man on the down and out “makes” a queer, in effect also queering himself, he queers as well the masses of down-and-out unemployed men whose unloosed gender stirred up a national anxiety about precarious masculinity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-119
Number of pages29
JournalAmerican Literature
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • 1930s
  • Hobos
  • Poverty
  • Tom Kromer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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