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Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America
by David A. Taylor (Goodreads Author)
Soul of a People is about a handful of people who were on the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930s and a glimpse of America at a turning point. This particular handful of characters went from poverty to great things later, and included John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Studs Terkel. In the 1930s they were all caught up in an effort to de ...more
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Odd--sort of the companion to a documentary, it tells the stories behind the stories of some of the WPA state guides. Sort of. Sometimes it just kind of retails some anecdotes and stops, as in California. Sometimes it's thematic. Sometimes not. Sometimes, as in Louisiana, where it details a pattern of censorship and surveillance, or Florida, where it discusses workers kept on plantations in near-medieval slavery, it's powerful and distressing. He finds an early Jim Thompson piece about the death ...more
In the 1930s, the WPA employed over 6k writers to document life stories and develop State Guides for every state. Thousands of these stories and many state guides are available online. Fascinating stuff. This book provides a decent overview, mostly from the writer's point of view. Wish it had gone deeper into the FWP history or deeper into the stories but skimmed to surface of both focusing on some of the more prominent writers from the project.
The subject matter - the Federal Writers' Project, a key part of the most ambitious and audacious social history and arts project ever undertaken - really carries this book, but is undermined by the ordinary prose and questionable structure. Particularly disappointing is the account of the project's demise, which is presented almost in brief and without any of the grand importance and drama attributed to the project during its tenure and its subsequent impact on writing and society.
Interesting book. During the Great Depression, the govt set up the WPA Writer's Project to create jobs and create guidebooks. This book discusses the writers who took on these job. This book is useful for offering suggestions on what to read. It is kind of a guide to the guides--very disjointed and sporadic. Good reference for further reading.
History of Federal Writer's Project, and overview of the new deal era work relief project and more detailed discussion of several representative state projects. To accompany the documentary by the same name, to be shown on the Smithsonian Channel this September.