Author by : Scott Borchert
Languange : en
Publisher by : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Format Available : PDF, ePub, Mobi
Total Read : 35
Total Download : 666
File Size : 46,9 Mb
Description : The plan was as idealistic as it was audacious—and perhaps flat-out crazy. Take thousands of broke writers—whether formally unemployed or self-anointed, communists or non-conformists, urbanites or country dwellers, young or old, poets or reporters, but all of them American in some shape or form—and put them to work writing a guidebook to a country in the throes of the Great Depression. Or forty-eight guides to be exact, one for each state, along with hundreds of miscellaneous books dedicated to cities, territories, folklore, and even slave narratives, all of varying quality, each revealing distinct regional sensibilities. All this fell within the singular purview of the Federal Writer’s Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration founded to employ not just writers but anyone who seemed ill-suited to manual labor. It was a predictably eclectic organization, directed by an equally eccentric man, Henry Alsberg—a disheveled Manhattanite prone to fits of melancholy who took his advice from the anarchist Emma Goldman. When Alfred Kazin sat for an interview at the New York office of the FWP, he encountered a room “crowded with men and women lying face down on the floor, screaming that they were on strike.” Even W. H. Auden couldn’t help but remark that the whole thing was “one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by a state.” Scott Borchert’s Republic of Detours tells the story of this raucous, Whitmanesque, and entirely utopian institution, from its starry-eyed early days to its dismemberment by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In spite of its inglorious end and unusual mission, the FWP was a thoroughly American institution, and it reflected the aspirations, diversity, and darker recesses of the nation’s present and past. Zora Neale Hurston was relegated to a segregated office in Florida, while Richard Wright was threatened at knifepoint by a group of disgruntled actors who disliked the play he had written. Other writers had trouble getting hired in the first place: Nelson Algren, broke and smarting from the failure of his first novel, at first wasn’t considered broke enough. Meanwhile, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and many other future literary stars found sustenance when they needed it. By way of these and countless other stories, Borchert illuminates an essentially noble enterprise that sought to create a broad, inclusive patriotism that could speak to all Americans. As the United States enters a new era of economic distress, political strife, and culture-industry turmoil, its lessons are urgent and strong.