Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Monday, April 14, 2008

New book looks at the WPA

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) with the aim of putting Americans back to work. Across the country, hundreds of Americans did a myriad of jobs from paving roads, fixing bridges, painting murals and writing essays and plays.

Workers employed by the WPA built several landmarks including Camp David. The program had its critics and still does. Some argued that participants were engaged in frivolous projects. Others claim that the program did not help end the Depression. Looking back, however, one could argue that a program of such magnitude has never been replicated.

A new book, American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, When FDR Put the Nation to Work by Nick Taylor looks at this historical program. Amazon has a great video of Taylor talking about his book,

The WPA encompassed many different missions – rebuilding/ expanding the country’s infrastructure and supporting the arts. For instance, the murals at San Francisco landmark Coit Tower were done by the Public Works of Art Project. The Cradle Will Rock was a play that was originally supposed to be staged as a production of the Federal Theater Program. It was shut down under protests that political pressuresthat it was too leftist leaning were behind the closure, not monetary ones. The actors went on to put the play on themselves. (Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock dramatizes the events surrounding the play and its attempted closure -

A few years ago, I had one of those “great find” moments, when I came across New York Panorama. Originally published in 1938, it’s a collection of essays on New York City such as “The Press: Newspaperman’s Mecca.” The FWP employed 6,600 people. I find it hard to even conceive of a program like this happening today. You might recognize some of the people who participated in the FWP, such as Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston.

Additional reading:

Book traces history of WPA, which employed millions in U.S. during Depression,

The Shock Doctrine,

1 comment:

The Diva of Dining said...

This era/topic was always one of my favorites to learn about. Definitely going to have to give this one a read! Thanks for the heads-up.

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