Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Retracing Architecture in the Magnolia State

Interesting post today on a blog about historic preservation in Mississippi, on the evolving understanding of the state's architectural roots. The WPA guide held one of the first attempts to wrestle that history onto the page; this annotated discussion and the back-and-forth that follows it takes it forward.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring in Arizona

With spring comes a blooming of books: this week marks the anniversaries of the WPA guides to Arizona (70 years ago) and Washington, DC (73 years).
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Arizona guidebook includes the work of the peripatetic Harry Partch, who's recalled now mainly for his music and his invention of new instruments for playing it. (The song “Harry Partch” by Beck uses Partch’s 43-tone scale. Thanks, Wikipedia.) But Partch flirted with becoming a writer before he settled on music, and his wide sense of the world informs his compositions from U.S. Highball to “Daphne of the Dunes.” It’s not clear if Partch is responsible, but the Arizona guide’s essay on the arts notes that the state’s landscapes inspired compositions ranging from Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite and Victor Young’s Arizona Sketches to Cadman’s Land of the Sky Blue Water. And the guidebook's section on folklore lovingly describes musical instruments brought by immigrant groups, including the gusle: “something like a mandolin, with goatskin across the sounding box and strands of horsehair for string”; played with a bow, it made the perfect accompaniment to a song like “Underground in America,” Lazar Jurich’s lament of a Serbian miner.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

75 Years of WPA Today

To mark today's 75th anniversary of the Works Progress Administration, here's a roundup of blog postings around, from Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania to southern Texas, where Zora Neale Hurston's niece Lucy Ann Hurston will be speaking in a few days. There's also an artful selection of WPA posters here to commemorate the date. And in two days an exhibit celebrating the WPA legacy in California will open in Berkeley, and will run through August.

On the policy front, bloggers from Deepak Bhargava to Sarah VonEsch and The Progressive Pulse call for something like WPA's jobs program to address today's unemployment crisis, citing local movements and national initiatives, including Jobs for America Now. There are plans for a march for jobs next month. Which all points to the currency of that history in the dialogue about our present.

John Wiley & Sons, the publisher of Soul of a People, plans to issue a digital edition of the book this spring, and the Smithsonian Channel will release the dvd of Soul of a People: Writing America's Story on June 29th.

Friday, April 2, 2010

West Virginia pilots a state Writers' Project

The School of Journalism at West Virginia University recently announced a three-county pilot effort in a West Virginia Writers' Project, with several positions for people gathering oral histories in Pocahontas, Greenbrier, and Monroe counties using multimedia. Contact information is here for learning more. Go, Mountain State!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Another Chronicler of Life on the Street

From Lyle Saxon we pause to recall David Mills, who died the other day after finishing work on Treme, a new effort to trace life in New Orleans after Katrina. Mills had started in journalism and moved to television mini-series as a way to dramatize life more completely. He went from showing life in DC for The Washington Post to showing a certain life in Baltimore on The Wire, and memorializing New Orleans in Treme. The portraits he helped to create will continue to move people.