April 13, 2009 "Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project" To Be Featured in Panel Discussion and Film Screening

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221; American Folklife Center (202) 707-5510

The origins and legacy of the Federal Writers’ Project will be the focus of an excerpted film screening and panel discussion, “Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project,” on Tuesday, April 28, at 3 p.m. in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. S.E. The two-hour program is sponsored by the Library’s Center for the Book and the American Folklife Center. It is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

The book “Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America,” by David A. Taylor, will be available for sale and signing. It tells the story of a handful of people who were on the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s and offers a glimpse of America at a turning point. This particular handful of impoverished characters achieved great things and included John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and Studs Terkel. In the 1930s, they were all part of an effort to describe America in a series of WPA travel guides. Through striking images and firsthand accounts, “Soul of a People” reveals their experiences and the most vivid excerpts from selected guides and interviews: Harlem schoolchildren, truckers, Chicago fishmongers, Cuban cigar makers, a Florida midwife, Nebraska meatpackers and blind musicians.

“Soul of a People: Writing America's Story” is a two-part documentary film, created with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities that tells the story of the rich legacy of the Federal Writers’ Project. The film offers a fresh look at the WPA guidebooks and the project’s long-hidden interviews. The film will premiere later this year on Smithsonian Channel HD.

Taylor, who is also the writer and co-producer of the accompanying film, will be a part of the panel discussion with Peggy Bulger, the director of the American Folklife Center; David Royle, Smithsonian Channel vice president for programming; and Andrea Kalin, the film’s director and co-producer.

The collections of the Library are especially rich in documentation and artifacts from the New Deal projects of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Many of these collections are available online in the American Memory website at www.loc.gov/memory/. These include photographs from the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information, American Life Histories of the Federal Writers’ Project and slave narratives conducted during this period. The Library has also made many of its Depression-era photographs more widely available through the photo-sharing website Flickr (www.loc.gov/rr/print/flickr_pilot.html).

The Center for the Book was created in 1977 to stimulate public interest in books and reading. For information about its programs, publications and national reading-promotion networks, visit www.loc.gov/cfbook/.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library to “preserve and present American folklife” through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may be accessed through the Library’s website, www.loc.gov, and via interactive exhibitions on myLOC.gov.


PR 09-074
ISSN 0731-3527