Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), better known under his pseudonym “T-Bone Slim”, was one of the most seminal figures in the US Labor movement. He was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). T-Bone Slim’s writings went on to inspire the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. However, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers. By tracing the life and networks of T-Bone Slim, and contextualizing him within the social, cultural, and political movements he operated within, we gain important, new insights on the frictions, boundaries and alternative possibilities in working-class migrant communities.
T-Bone Slim was an exceptional person in many ways, and the surrealist word-play and the disillusioned black humor of his poems and prose reflect this uniqueness. In this project we will explore T-Bone Slim as a key figure in the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America, with a special focus on his multiple connections with the IWW movement, the art and literature of the migrant left, and the family and community networks related with Finnish migration to America. The transnational perspective challenges traditional nationalistic ways of studying immigrant culture in relation with their country of origin or their adaptation to mainstream culture in the place of settlement. T-Bone Slim’s literary profile and agency challenge the nationalistic paradigm, which have been re-evaluated by literary scholars. His writings are part of American literature, but are they also part of Finnish literature?
This project has emerged through the collaboration of a network of researchers working on the texts, images, narratives, and material objects created in the process of migration. Our activities the pilot projects “Immigrant Book Culture in Comparative Perspective” (Future Funds, University of Helsinki 2019) and “Interactive and Comparative Research of Migrant Archival Collections” (Future Funds, University of Helsinki 2020–2021). As we have created networks of co-operation with researchers, artists and community activists in Finland, the U.S., Canada, UK and Australia, our research path has continually led us to the life and work of T-Bone Slim.
One of the goals of this project is to create a T-Bone Slim wiki and database for digitized archival materials and articles. In this way we can make use of the material already collected by scholars and activists, and work on the archival data as efficiently as possible. The database will support the comparative research of this project, and contribute for new research.