Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America
The economic calamity that was the Great Depression wiped out fortunes and crushed dreams across the United States. The downturn altered the political fortunes of the Hoover administration. By 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt arrived with an agenda to turn the country around. His New Deal legislation appeared to offer a way out through countless government-run and -backed programs.
One of the new agencies was the Works Progress Administration, and one of its subprojects was the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). The FWP paid writers to work on approved projects, primarily state history and guide books. Writers, both burgeoning and established, sought employment with the agency. Writers such as Nelson Algren, Vardis Fisher, Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel, and Richard Wright covered various states from Idaho, Illinois, Florida, to New York. They contended with ornery editors and the occasional allegations of Communist influence as they compiled their books.
Republic of Detours examines a part of history that may be new to many readers. The author convincingly conveys his genuine surprise when he discovered the guides left by a deceased relative. The reader is along for a journey of frustrations and rewards as each person profiled left their mark on this short-lived (1937–43) agency. It is a pleasing revelation.
|Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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