Soul of a People: Writing America's Story

Recommended reading:
Federal Writers' Project

The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) helped define America and American literature by supporting literary talent during the Great Depression. In association with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association, the Kansas City Public Library commemorates the 75th anniversary of this New Deal program with a series of free events throughout September and October 2009, including a screening of the documentary Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story.

Upcoming Events

Andrew Granade event

Musicologist Andrew Granade leads an introduction to the life and work of composer Virgil Thompson – with screenings of two short documentaries featuring his scores – on Wednesday, October 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. A native of Kansas City, Virgil Thomson became a leading voice in American music whose influence rivaled that of Aaron Copeland. Granade specializes in 20th century music at UMKC.

The Central Library complements these events with Box Office Gold: Cinema of the 1930s, a selection of films produced during the Great Depression and screened on Mondays and Saturdays throughout September in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault.

The Central Library will also screen a selection of Depression-era newsreels in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault every weekday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. throughout September. These newsreel compilations will include vintage footage of prominent national figures like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as slice-of-life reports on ordinary Americans and updates on the slow economic recovery. A different newsreel compilation will be screened every week.

Admission is free for all events. Call 816.701.3407 to RSVP, excluding films.

Previous Events

Robert Hemenway event

Former KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway presents Jump at the Sun: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston on Tuesday, October 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. Already a prominent literary figure, Hurston became an editor for the Florida edition of the American Guide series and supervisor for the Negro unit of the state FWP in April of 1938. Hemenway is author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography, an important contribution to the critical reassessment and public rediscovery of Hurston.

Andrea Kalin event

Film director Andrea Kalin introduced a screening of her documentary Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story on Wednesday, September 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. This major documentary television program about the Federal Writers’ Project, broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel HD, serves as the basis for the entire Soul of a People series at the Library.

Geographer Walter Schroeder examined The WPA Guide to Missouri on Wednesday, September 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. Published in 1941, the Missouri installment of the American Guide series satisfies Missouri skepticism by offering a staggering array of facts that makes the guide a valuable resource even 68 years later. Schroeder, assistant professor emeritus of geography at the University of Missouri-Columbia, edited Missouri: The WPA Guide to the “Show Me” State, published in 1998.

Historian Jerrold Hirsch led a discussion called Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal Writers’ Project, examining the lasting value derived from this New Deal-era program, on Wednesday, September 2, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. Hirsch is a professor of history at Truman State University.

Scholar Norman Yetman presented Voices from Slavery: WPA Slave Narratives on Thursday, September 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. The event offered an in-depth look at oral history interviews with former slaves conducted by FWP writers. The effort to record and preserve these voices was a major FWP priority. Yetman is a professor emeritus of American studies and sociology at the University of Kansas.

Soul of a People programs in libraries are sponsored by the American Library Association Public Programs Office with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities: great ideas brought to life.