Friday, February 19, 2010

Zora and Women Artists Day

The blog for WomenArts has a thoughtful post noting the 75th anniversary of the WPA programs and the third annual Support Women Artists Now (SWAN) Day, coming up on March 27. Martha Richards notes the daunting obstacles that women artists faced then and now: "We put in long hours for under-staffed non-profits or juggle several part-time jobs along with childcare duties," and still often get overlooked in surveys of the workforce and the economy.
    Richards highlights WPA writers Eudora Welty, whose experiences as a publicity assistant and photographer fed her first short stories, and Zora Neale Hurston, a main figure in Soul of a People (see my 8/18/09 post). Hurston's great gift, said Alice Walker, was showing her characters "relishing the pleasure of each other's loquacious and bodacious company." Richards then looks forward another 75 years with the hope that women artists will continue to celebrate each other's bodacious company, in good times and bad.
    Watch their website and Facebook page for SWAN Day plans and opportunities.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowdigger, a life history

As Washington, DC gets a record load of snow dumped outside, it calls to mind a WPA life history from New Orleans, blending life and death and looking for work. New Orleanian Melinda Parker told one WPA interviewer about a visit she got from her long-dead brother Jim:

   "Just the other day I was sitting down here by my stove, praying to the Lord, when who walks in the door but my brother that's dead. He used to live in Detroit so I always called him a snowdigger. I says to him, 'What you doin' down here now, you snowdigger?' And he says, 'I just had some money an' I thought I'd come an' give it to you.' And he puts five dollars in my lap. Just then it looked to me like my brother that's a minister comes in the door and he turns to my brother and says, 'Jim, what you doin' here?' And Jim says, 'I come to give Melinda some money.' So my brother that's a minister, he gives me five dollars. I got so excited about havin' that money for Christmas that I went out the house and was goin' to tell my friend and was all the way to Saratoga Street and the money was gone ... I told my brother that's a minister about it on Christmas Day and he said that Jim knew that I'm lookin' for a job and that his spirit is goin' to help me find one soon."

The full interview is at the Library of Congress WPA life histories page.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Black History Month and the Writers' Project

This marks the start of Black History Month, and also the month in 1941 when Richard Wright published 12 Million Black Voices, his photo essay on black life and history. A collaboration with photographers of the Farm Security Administration, the book showed in almost cinematic sweep the journey that African Americans had made from Africa through slavery to the 20th century.
    As novelist David Bradley says in his interview for Soul of a People: Writing America's Story, Wright pored over the FSA photographs, armed with the history he had gathered, and found inspiration: "So he's looking at these pictures, and he's seeing himself. He's seeing his own experience, he's seeing alter egos, he's seeing where he might have ended up..."
    For Black History Month, Smithsonian Networks will rebroadcast the film, starting February 2.