Reviews | Bring back the Federal Writers Project

But writers aren’t the only ones benefiting from a new FWP. The documentary work of the project will make an invaluable contribution to the understanding of the nation itself. Think of the vast treasure that will pile up in the Library of Congress, forming an indelible recording of how ordinary Americans live: not only how we weathered the pandemic and mourned the dead, but how we work and we do. relax, how we think about the burdens and triumphs of our past, how we view the future.

There is enormous potential in this business. Clint Smith, writing earlier this year in Atlantic, pleaded for a revival FWP which would collect the stories of black Americans who survived Jim Crow, joined the Great Migration and fueled the civil rights movement – a contemporary echo of the FWP’s original work collecting accounts of people once enslaved in the 1930s.

It is fair, I think, and crucial. A new project is also expected to tackle all the major forces that have shaped our time, from the deindustrialization of the Rust Belt and the collapse of organized labor, to the rise of the women’s movement and gay liberation, to the impact of species and climate extinction. change.

Critic and educator David Kipen, one of the driving forces behind the bill, believes a new FWP will lead “national cultural diplomacy” – the project, as he put it, “might just begin to unify our amazing, divided and mad. country. ”Today, as we face increasing alienation, division and political tribalism, this quest for national understanding is more urgent than ever.

Recreating the geographic capacity of the original FWP will be key to this effort. By the 1930s, the project had offices in every state; for a time federal writers were on the ground in every county. This forced the project to include communities far removed from the levers of power – and from each other. A new FWP will also need to cover the country from coast to coast and border to border. And today’s federal writers will need to be as diverse as the populations they document.

The original FWP remains an inspiration, and rightly so: his American Guide series is still read and admired, and the reams of material he has assembled – including life stories, folklore, recipes and much more. others – have fascinated countless scholars and curious citizens. . But his story contains warnings that we must heed. The project met with opposition from the start. Some critics have laughed at the FWP boondoggle and mocked the “pencil enthusiasts” who endowed it. Others have focused on the presence of radicals, real and imagined, and even accused the FWP of creating a “Red Baedeker”. (Not specific for the Depression era, communists and other radicals did work for the project, as well as their explicit legal right; the claim that they controlled it was, and remains, absurd.)

The FWP and other art projects, especially the Federal Theater Project, aroused such contempt in part because they were seen as the soft cultural underbelly of the New Deal: easy targets for critics who sought to undermine the robust government. (although limited) of the Roosevelt administration. activism in favor of the poor and the working class.


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