American Guides: The Federal Writers' Project And The Casting Of American Culture

Paperback | August 26, 2016

byWendy Griswold

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In the midst of the Great Depression, Americans were nearly universally literate—and they were hungry for the written word. Magazines, novels, and newspapers littered the floors of parlors and tenements alike. With an eye to this market and as a response to devastating unemployment, Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration created the Federal Writers’ Project. The Project’s mission was simple: jobs. But, as Wendy Griswold shows in the lively and persuasive American Guides, the Project had a profound—and unintended—cultural impact that went far beyond the writers’ paychecks.

Griswold’s subject here is the Project’s American Guides, an impressively produced series that set out not only to direct travelers on which routes to take and what to see throughout the country, but also to celebrate the distinctive characteristics of each individual state. Griswold finds that the series unintentionally diversified American literary culture’s cast of characters—promoting women, minority, and rural writers—while it also institutionalized the innovative idea that American culture comes in state-shaped boxes. Griswold’s story alters our customary ideas about cultural change as a gradual process, revealing how diversity is often the result of politically strategic decisions and bureaucratic logic, as well as of the conflicts between snobbish metropolitan intellectuals and stubborn locals. American Guides reveals the significance of cultural federalism and the indelible impact that the Federal Writers’ Project continues to have on the American literary landscape.

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In the midst of the Great Depression, Americans were nearly universally literate—and they were hungry for the written word. Magazines, novels, and newspapers littered the floors of parlors and tenements alike. With an eye to this market and as a response to devastating unemployment, Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration created the...

Wendy Griswold is professor of sociology and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University. American Guides is the second volume of a trilogy on culture and place; the first volume was Regionalism and the Reading Class, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

other books by Wendy Griswold

Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:August 26, 2016Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022635783X

ISBN - 13:9780226357836

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Illustrations
Preface
Introduction: Casting Culture

Part One: Jobs for Writers
Chapter 1. Putting People to Work
Chapter 2. Keeping Writers out of Trouble

Part Two: Guides for Travelers
Chapter 3. Guiding Travelers
Chapter 4. Seeing America

Part Three: Cultural Federalism
Chapter 5. Negotiating Federalism
Chapter 6. Describing America

Part Four: Readers and Authors
Chapter 7. Guiding Readers
Chapter 8. Choosing Authors

Part Five: Casting Culture
Chapter 9. Defining Literature
Chapter 10. Using Books

Conclusion: Casting American Culture

Appendix A: Organizations and Acronyms
Appendix B: Key Dates for the Federal Writers’ Project, New Deal Relief Programs, and American Travel
Appendix C: New York State’s Directors
Appendix D: Contents of the 48 State Guides
Appendix E: Authors
Appendix F: Comparison of Canon Definers: Pattee, Parrington, Spiller, Baym (Norton), and American Guides
Appendix G: US Census Regions and Divisions

References
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Griswold’s ‘casting’ explanation of the Guides project is compelling and forceful. . . . American Guides interweaves empirical research and deft analysis, fact and creativity, and provides us a brand new way to see the United States.”