A New Federal Writers’ Project

A thought that came to my mind when I was reading “These Are Our Lives” was how a study like the Federal Writers’ Project would be conducted in modern times. Cultural ideals have shifted greatly in the past eighty or so years. Couch writes, “The people, all the people, must be known, they must be heard. Somehow they must be given representation, somehow they must be given voice and allowed to speak, in their essential character.” In the early 1900s, the demographics of the country were much different than today. Particularly, there wasn’t as much racial diversity. The United States’ Hispanic and indigenous peoples population has grown considerably, especially within the past few decades. Additionally, the Federal Writers’ Project was conducted during the Great Depression when it was more likely that people would have shared experiences. Poverty was pervasive and felt by a large majority of the population. Today, there is increased diversity within races. With that said, there is another element of intersectionality—the interconnectedness of systems of oppression such as homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, etc.—that is present for minority populations.

All of these things lead me to believe that if there were to be a new Federal Writers’ Project, it would have to be researched and planned more so than the original. If Couch wanted to capture “all the [people’s]” voices, then it would be necessary to research what groups are being left out and where they reside. Couch references “John and Sarah Easton” and calls attention to the ubiquitous nature of their plight among farmhands in the South during the Depression. If that cohesiveness among peoples is the objective of the Federal Writers’ Project, then I think they would have their hands full trying to ascertain a connection between us all in 2016. Personally, I can’t think of what might bring together a middle-aged drag queen in the streets of New York City and a teenage girl popularizing herself on Instagram in San Francisco, but maybe there is a surprising relationship that I can’t fathom. And perhaps that is the point. Finding a uniting principle for the entirety of the United States is a lofty goal, but one well worth striving for.

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1 Response to A New Federal Writers’ Project

  1. Krista Harder says:

    It’s so interesting to think about how a project like this would play out today. You’re right; it does seem like there are far more groups that we are now aware of. While Couch’s project seemed mostly about giving the South a collective memory and thus forming a new, more cohesive and realistic identity for our nation by focusing on mostly poor white and black Southern folk, someone undergoing this process today would have to consider a much wider array of people. It’s fascinating as well because those groups existed back then too; America wasn’t just made up of black and white people, but now all of these different groups are much more visible, and they deserve to be heard.
    It’s also interesting how you say US citizens had more in common back then because they were all bonding over poverty. I agree with this to a certain extent, but while I was reading the different life histories from the Depression, I found myself relating to them even though they lived decades ago, in poverty, and in the South (I technically live in North Carolina now, but I’m from a more northern part of the US). When one woman discussed the day she buried her child, I thought of my own mother’s stillborn baby. When I read about an old woman who was widowed because her husband shot himself, I thought of a friend I nearly lost to suicide. If I can relate to an elderly widow whose husband committed suicide during the Great Depression then I’m sure even a middle-aged drag queen in New York City and a teen girl in San Francisco can find ways to connect. I think we can all relate just by virtue of being human, and I think that’s the true value and beauty of this project.

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