In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt proposed a federal program, the Works Project Administration (WPA), to employ people on relief. Critics called the WPA communist, anti-American, a government make-work boondoggle, but because of it, Central Texas has a series of flood-control reservoirs on the Colorado, a survey of Texas folk art at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and Deep Eddy pool (to mention only a few of just the Texas WPA projects).*
One of the programs under the WPA was the Federal Writers' Project which employed writers to collect and compile histories and stories of people across the country. John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, and Studs Terkel are a few of the writers who earned about $100 a month working for the WPA. They produced American Life Histories, the Slave Narratives (both at the Library of Congress), and the American Guide Series: guidebooks to the states that are still popular with tourists.
The Austin History Center is currently exibiting memorabilia and collections from Austin's experience of the 1930s and 40s called Relief, Recovery, & Progress: The Great Depression and the New Deal in Austin. While you're downtown to see it, stop next door at the library and check out the books of the authors listed above and see works from the Federal Writers' Project that the library owns, and have us order the ones we don't own through interlibrary loan.
And while you're surfing, re-read a previous blog entry, a book report on Leonard Todd's biography of the slave potter Dave, written with the help of the Writers' Project's Slave Narratives at the Library of Congress (links above).