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A New Federal Writers' Project

by Cally Carswell 

Tags: Media, journalists, Great Depression, Works Progress Administration, Federal Writers' Project, Mark Pinsky, New Republic, On the Media,

WPA USA PosterNumerous journalists are joining the ranks of the unemployed. Can the federal government help put them back to work?

In an essay for the New Republic and an interview with On the Media, Mark Pinsky suggests that it can—by reviving the Federal Writers' Project, an initiative established in 1935 under the Works Progress Administration.

Jerrold Hirsch, who wrote a book about the Depression-era project, told On the Media that it enlisted out-of-work writers, journalists, librarians, and others “[t]o rediscover America, to give us a new and broader knowledge of the very country we lived in and not to see it in narrow, exclusive terms of just the dominant culture.” They recorded music, conducted oral histories, collected slave narratives, and worked on creating thorough guides to each state.

Pinsky’s vision for the project's 21st-century sibling isn’t quite as extensive—he described it to OTM’s Brooke Gladstone as the “Federal Writers’ Project Light.” He told her the program would give small grants for “research projects, mostly interviews, that would be approved and put out by community colleges and universities,” and would document important aspects of American life like “the modern immigrant experience” and “the transition to a green economy.” The public benefit, he writes in TNR, would be documentation for the ages of “those segments of society largely ignored by commercial and even public media.”