Taylor, the author of Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America weighed in on today’s biggest media headlines, including The New York Times‘ article today about Sen. Edward Kennedy‘s upcoming memoir, which was supposed to stay under wraps until its release.
Taylor also discussed his book and writers’ lives during the Great Depression. He compared it to the current economic recession that has forced many journalists and writers into unemployment. “There was a not an idea of a social safety net if you did lose your job,” Taylor said of the Great Depression. “People would have their houses foreclosed on as a result of losing their jobs and they would move away, the whole family would move away, and no one would talk about it…So there was a lot more isolation of journalists and writers who lost their jobs, which we see something of now, but it was even deeper then.”
During the Depression, the U.S. government also launched the Federal Writers’ Project as part of the Works Progress Administration. “There was an opening in the legislation creating the WPA that allowed for arts and humanities projects…but the initial focus was on infrastructure,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t until out-of-work writers really protested and said ‘We need jobs, too,’ that the federal government responded and created a small agency…for writers. At first they didn’t know exactly what to do…but they did know that they needed to provide some sort of jobs that used those skills that they had to keep morale and some prospect for economic revival going.”
Some well-known American writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison came out of this federal project, Taylor said. Although the federal government has launched some stimulus works projects during this recession, do you think legislators today would ever launch a modern-day Federal Writers’ Project?
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