Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story is a ground-breaking documentary on 1930s America and the Federal Writers’ Project, which documented in riveting detail life during the Great Depression and helped launch talents such as Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, John Cheever, Richard Wright, Studs Terkel, Margaret Walker, Nelson Algren, and Jim Thompson.
Watch a short video about the film, nominated for the 2010 Writer’s Guild of America award for best documentary. The film also received a 2010 CINE Golden Eagle award and a clutch of TIVA Peer Awards, including Best of DC. Order the dvd here.
For more on this topic, read the Village Voice article about Ellison’s Harlem before Invisible Man, the Smithsonian article on the WPA Guides, and about the friendship between Wright and Algren in The American Scholar. And see whether noir novelist Jim Thompson produced the darkest guidebook ever, before he wrote The Killer Inside Me (download here).
A pamphlet produced by the American Library Association sets the stage (download here). And learn about documentary pioneer Leo Seltzer, whose work appears in the film, in David’s post for the Writer’s Center blog, First Person Plural.
Watch the webcast of the 2014 event at the Library of Congress celebrating the 75th anniversary of a major oral history published by the Federal Writers’ Project, with a look at its legacy and changes in oral history since 1939.
Praise for Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story
“[Director Andrea] Kalin uses archival newsreel footage, still photographs, and even scenes from Hollywood movies, along with the words of the FWP authors. Actress Patricia Clarkson narrates, and authors and historians such as Douglas Brinkley, Roberto Polito, and David Bradley provide a modern perspective. This touching, straightforward, and well-paced look at a small piece of American history will be a welcome addition to literature and history collections.”
— Library Journal
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Do you have a firsthand story of a Writers’ Project worker, or of using the WPA travel guides? Share it here.