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Soul of a People: Writing America's Story

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   Hundreds of thousands of people had lost their jobs. Banks were collapsing. People could not pay mortgages and abandoned their homes. This was America in 1933, and Franklin D. Roosevelt had just been elected president. To alleviate the crisis in the country’s economic and political systems, Roosevelt quickly created the still controversial Works Progress Administration (WPA) to put people back to work, building roads, bridges and schools.

FDR at train

   One small section of the mammoth WPA initiative was the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). Instead of building roads and bridges, the FWP’s formerly jobless writers and artists helped to create a remarkable portrait in words of something less tangible: the country’s soul. For more information on the Great Depression check out History Now A Quarterly Journal.



keywestThe Alvin Sherman Library is sponsoring a series of programs in conjunction with “Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story” a new television documentary about the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) to be broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel HD. The FWP was responsible for the American Guide Series of travel guides for every state and for interviews with former slaves and thousands of citizens all across the U.S. in the 1930s. Many writers from the project later became famous, among them Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel and Eudora Welty.




Soul of a People: Writing America's Story brochure

Share your memories of the Great Depression

The Alvin Sherman Library is interested in your memories of the Great Depression -- how you may have experienced it first hand as a child in the 1930s or how it it affected your parents or other family members.

You can also share your concerns about the current depression and how it is affecting you and your family now.


Image Credits
1. Family in front of shack home, Oklahoma City, 1939. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
2. President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks from a train, Bismarck, N.D., 1936. Courtesy Library of Congress.
3. A Guide to Key West. Courtesy of the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts

Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story is a major documentary television program about the Federal Writers’ Project produced by Spark Media, Washington, D.C., and broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel HD. Soul of a People programs in libraries are sponsored by the American Library Association Public Programs Office with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities: great ideas brought to life.


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Last updated: January 11, 2010