Depression-Era interviews

Thanks to the Library of Congress, many of the oral history interviews produced as part of the Federal Writers’ Project are now available to the public.

The paper of record says that the editors of the project — part of Roosevelt’s WPA program — “believed that they could build a national culture on diversity.” Evidently many participants were disdainful of the program after the fact:

John Cheever was one of the program’s unenthusiastic participants. A child of proud Massachusetts Republicans who had called the W.P.A. short for “We Poke Along,” he was ashamed of working as a “junior editor” at the program’s Washington office. He once described his duties as fixing “the sentences written by some incredibly lazy bastards.”

Nonetheless, Cheever’s experiences at the Writers’ Project provided the material for many of the best scenes in his 1957 novel, “The Wapshot Chronicle.”

Other participants included Conrad Aiken, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Arna Bontemps, Malcolm Cowley, Edward Dahlberg, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Kenneth Patchen, Philip Rahv, Kenneth Rexroth, Harold Rosenberg, Studs Terkel, Margaret Walker, Richard Wright, and Frank Yerby. Eudora Welty participated as a photographer.

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