Beyond the Book: Background information when reading State by State

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State by State

A Panoramic Portrait of America

by Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland

State by State by Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 608 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2009, 608 pages

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The WPA's American Guide Series

State by State was inspired by the American Guide Series, a project that grew out of The Federal Writers Program (FWP). FWP was established in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The FWP employed over 6000 Depression-era writers, editors, historians, researchers, art critics, archaeologists, geologists and cartographers. They collected folklore, slave narratives, and other oral histories, committing much of America's intangible history to paper. Thousands of writers worked on the project, making about $80 a month, working 20 to 30 hours a week. The poet W.H. Auden called it "one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by a [government]." Federal funding for the project ended in 1939, but it continued under state sponsorship until 1943.

Printed by the 48 contiguous states, plus Alaska, Puerto Rico, New York City and Washington, D.C, the American Guide Series contained essays on history and culture, descriptions of major cities and towns, tours, and photographs. Still others were published representing regions like Death Valley, the Monterey Peninsula, and the Ocean Highway.

Famous FWP writers include Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neal Hurston, John Steinbeck, Studs Terkel, and Eudora Welty.

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This article is from the November 5, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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