In response to Sun Wanning's (2014) critique that individual desire for recognition has limited the political potential of migrant worker literature, this article looks to the Picun Literature Group at the Migrant Workers Home to examine the dynamic between the collective, activist setting and the individual authors’ struggle with literary and political practice. Combining the literary technique of close reading with anthropological fieldwork, the article describes how the Group encourages and influences its members’ literary production. The works of Xiao Hai, Fan Yusu, Li Ruo, and Wan Huashan are examined to determine whether they view literature as elite or subaltern, individual or collective, art or activism. This article identifies in their writing concrete examples of a change in consciousness and the formation of identity. It argues that literary writing gives the working-class writing subject and fellow workers a sense of dignity and collective identity. Both the Picun writers and the migrant worker writers in general can be considered “unlikely writers.” The term captures their marginality in the cultural field, as well as the struggle to negotiate their subalternity and the elitist formulation of literary value. Thus, the “unlikely writer” embodies the promise of migrant worker literature in the attempt to redefine the meanings of “politics” and “literature” and bring the two together.

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