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John Cheever was a high school dropout living on raisins and buttermilk when he got a job with the Writers' Project. Richard Wright, 28 with a seventh-grade education and a passion for books, was digging ditches and cleaning hospital operating rooms. Anzia Yezierska had already ridden the American dream all the way up and then back down—from poor immigrant to bestselling author and Hollywood screenwriter to sharing a cramped place and looking for work.
In 1935, the federal government's WPA Writers' Project offered a lifeline: it hired unemployed writers to document life in America for a series of state travel guides. The WPA writers walked streets, interviewed passersby, described urban landmarks and rural landscapes, chatted about nightclubs and bars, recorded folklore and folk music, and compiled what is now very precious information about how Americans lived and how America looked. With striking images, firsthand accounts, and new discoveries from personal collections and other sources, David Taylor's Soul of a People brings it all to vibrant and unruly life: the writers, their friendships, the hardships, the political battles, and the enduring outcome.
The book follows Richard Wright from his WPA job in Chicago to New York, where he sits elbow to elbow with John Cheever in the WPA cafeteria and recruits a "smart young man and sharp dresser" named Ralph Ellison to start documenting the scene in Harlem. You'll see Florida's Gulf Coast through the eyes of Zora Neale Hurston, and oil-flush Oklahoma City through the eyes of Jim Thompson, who one day lost patience with a younger Project writer, Louis LaMoore. "The biggest fraud in the world," Thompson complained to a coworker about LaMoore, who had not yet become Louis L'Amour, one of the bestselling authors of Western novels of all time. You'll find out what happened after Studs Terkel dropped out of law school into the worst job market in history and meet a young Kenneth Rexroth climbing Mount Shasta in California—decades before he introduced Allen Ginsberg's Howl and helped launch the Beat Generation.
From Nobel Prize winners to barroom brawlers, Soul of a People traces lives drawn together in surprising ways and beautifully captures the voices and spirit of America's past—and the profound effect of those voices on our modern culture.
All the WPA books are fascinating, and this is especially so.Published 12 months ago by William Boot
This is a nice book to just pick up and read when your time permits. Each essay is both enjoyable and informative, giving the reader a real feel for what it was like to be a... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Karen E.
In fact, we need to bring back the WPA Writers' Project now!
This book is very inspiring. Let's hope lots of people in Congress read it.
This book is an interesting and thought provoking introduction to an era, and a group of people gathered by accident as it were, who let us in on what it was like to labor and... Read morePublished on April 24, 2013 by Dorothy Andrews
Good quality. Arrived on time, it was packaged well. I am very happy with the quality. This was a great bargain.Published on September 13, 2012 by Indianapoet
But for me, it is too much about the writers and not enough about the events of the time.
I bought this book for my husband, and these are his words. Read more