August 2, 2018

Did You Know About The Federal Writers' Project?

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

I love learning things from authors. On my nightstand is my current read, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, by Lisa Wingate. She has been a favorite after I read, Before We Were Yours. By the way, I recommend this book, too. 

The Sea Keeper’s Daughter, was a 2016 Christy Award Winner in the Contemporary novel category. “From modern-day Roanoke Island to the sweeping backdrop of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains and Roosevelt's WPA folklore writers, past and present intertwine to create an unexpected destiny.” It’s a compelling read. I’ve learned a lot from this read. 

Until reading The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, I had never heard of “The Federal Writers' Project” which was created in 1935 as part of the United States Work Progress Administration to provide employment during the Great Depression for historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and others.

The project produced a series of sectional guide books under the name American Guide, focusing on the scenic, historical, cultural, and economic resources of the United States. Some of these works are still used in state travel departments and parks. 

“The records of the Federal Writers'Project of the United States Work Projects Administration span the years 1524-1947, with the bulk of the items created from 1935 to 1942. They are comprised of correspondence, memorandum, field reports, notes, drafts of essays, lists, drawings, maps, graphs, newspaper clippings, transcripts of documents, oral testimony in the form of life histories, folklore material, inventories, statements, critical appraisals, speeches, administrative records, instructions, scripts, plays, and surveys. Material prior to 1935 consists mostly of transcripts made or copied for references purposes or for preservation. The files of the Federal Writers' Project are arranged in the following series: Administrative File, American Guide File, Folklore Project, Social-Ethnic Studies, Special Studies and Projects, Negro Studies Project, Slave Narrative Project, Miscellaneous Records, Miscellany and Printed Matter. A small Addition was made to the records in 1998.”

As the program evolved and expanded,  program employees began writing about the people of their assigned areas of the country. These interviews are a snapshot of America during a most challenging time in America. There are interviews of those born into slavery and how their lives changed after the Civil War. 

The Library of Congress has the archive of the program’s projects. It is fascinating. After I read the “historical fiction” parts of Lisa’s books,  I’m compelled to google to see what are facts in her book. I’m totally hooked but no spoilers. You’ll have to read it for yourself. 

Did you know there was The Federal Writers’ Project? 

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