Soul of a People

Writing America’s Story (2009)

Discovering America, Discovering Ourselves

Winner of five 2010 Peer Awards, including “Best of D.C.”

In the Great Depression, Americans endured a crisis not just of economy, but identity, and millions of unemployed men and women looked to the government for a life raft. Hundreds of thousands found jobs with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), most wielding picks and shovels to build roads and schools. For a smaller cadre, however, the tools were little more than a pen, paper and the spirit of investigation. The Project, one of four arts programs under the WPA, fed thousands of unemployed writers and “would-be” writers, and assigned them to document America in guidebooks and interviews. With the Project, the government pitted young, untested talents against the problems of everyday Americans.  From that experience, some of America’s great writers found their own voices. Soul of a People looks at the deeply personal stories behind the familiar images of the Great Depression and shows the vitality of a democracy built on a diverse citizenry. The film includes interviews with Studs Terkel, Stetson Kennedy, David Bradley and Douglas Brinkley.

Major funding for Soul of a People was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Network, and the state humanities councils of Illinois, Nebraska, Idaho, Maryland, Texas and Wisconsin.  Produced in association with the Library of Congress, the documentary is being broadcast in HD on the Smithsonian Channel.  A companion book, Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America, by co-producer and co-writer David Taylor has been published by Wiley and Sons.  The American Library Association is facilitating related activities, such as discussions groups and screenings in libraries across the country.

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