Sunday, April 8, 2012

WPA and writers

Congress approved the formation of the
Works Progress Administration
on this date in 1935. The WPA was created
by President Franklin Roosevelt to relieve the economic hardship of the Great
Depression. The program employed more than 8.5 million people on 1.4 million
public projects before it was disbanded in 1943. Many of the WPA's projects
involved manual labor, but it also included literary and arts programs like the
Federal Writers' Project, which gave jobs to writers such as Nelson Algren, Saul
Bellow, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, and
Richard Wright. Critics of the program said it encouraged laziness and shoddy
work, and claimed the acronym really stood for "We Poke Along," but Nelson
Algren said: "Had it not been for [the Writers' Project], the suicide rate would
have been much higher. It gave new life to people who had thought their lives
were over."from 4/8/12, The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

It seems to me that we continue to have this tension about support of artists, the value of culture and the role of government--over 70 years later. When I walk the sidewalks of urban neighborhoods in Tucson and Phoenix, I see the WPA "stamp" in the concrete. Much of the work at Sabino Canyon and Mt. Lemmon (where we went today/Easter Sunday and saw patches of snow on the northern slopes along with gentle streams of water and green shoots of grass, tree buddings and pine saplings spreading new needles) was done by the WPA. Can we at least find some agreement that public works do benefit the common good--even if we disagree about what the "common good" looks like?

1 comment:

Levonne said...

You are right on of course with this post! I love what the WPA contributed to our country! Reminders are everywhere.