Sunday, December 18, 2011

Give an Author this Holiday - Action Dolls?

As featured this week on NPR's quiz show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, Uneek Dolls gives Etsy shoppers a chance to give their favorite author for the holidays. As a homemade doll.
    The craft shop stocks nearly 40 writer dolls, including Mark Twain (source of Soul of a People's title), WPA enthusiast John Steinbeck, and Carson McCullers (good friend of Richard Wright, whose glowing review of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter appeared soon after his own novel Native Son had been a smash).
    In the limerick clue, the show's own writers joked the dolls might not fulfill every child's dreams of dancing sugar plums: I'll be watching toy-making elves a bit tighter/ Plath and Kafka won't make Christmas brighter/ I'll have to recall this strange line of dolls/ What kid wants to play with a writer?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Griots for a Global Village

This year marks the 100th birthday of Romare Bearden, and yesterday's article by Holland Cotter (with a slideshow) noted several ongoing celebrations of his work. Bringing together several themes in this blog, Cotter's article is titled "Griot for a Global Village." Bearden's visual storytelling adapts rhythms and motifs from traditional forms and makes them new, as did several other Harlem artists of the 1930s. Jacob Lawrence spoke of the interwoven fabric of visual and narrative art that emerged in that period, when he explored writing and Ralph Ellison studied sculpture.
    Bearden's Foundation shows the broad sweep of that vision in his case, and how it continues to influence the way we see stories. There you find the statement about his influence by the griot of American 20th century theater, August Wilson: "What I saw was Black life presented on its own terms, on a grand and epic scale, with all its richness and fullness."

Blurb is a Verb: Your Book Trailer as Calling Card: A Success Story

Guest post on Sarah Pinneo's helpful book publicity blog.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

WPA Stories Caught the Quiet Before Pearl Harbor

On the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it's hard to imagine a time when that name didn't sound shadowed by a surprise strike. But just two years before the 1941 attack, family members spoke sunnily of their loved ones stationed in the faraway port in the South Pacific.
    The WPA life histories, lost in storehouses for decades, are now safe and searchable on the Library of Congress website.
   "By a strange coincidence, this boy, the pride of my life, is a soldier of Uncle Sam," Eliza Brady of Fernandina Florida says of her son Anthony. She tells WPA writer Rose Shepherd proudly that he "is Lieutenant-Commander of the aerial squadron in Pearl Harbor at Honolulu, Hawaii."
    Ernest Gerber, a Swiss-American farmer in Marietta Georgia, recalled his stint in Pearl Harbor during an earlier world war. "
    "In September 1917 they sent me to the hospital at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii," he told A.G. Barie. "I was assigned to repair room and ward duties," but he spent his off-duty hours exploring the island with photography, often by boat. He told his interviewer of a rare surprise during his stay:
   "A man who was preparing material for a book embracing a story concerning the eruption of a volcano had come to the island for inspiration, and he asked me if I would be willing to take a party to Launa Los. I had been planning a trip there myself so we got a party together and sailed over. One of the men was a camera man for Fox Films." As they approached the volcano from the beach, "suddenly it seemed as if the earth itself was about to go to pieces. After a short sharp rumble a mass of smoke and fire shot up into the air hundreds of feet and a stream of lava rushed through an opening in the crater walls... This was the eruption of 1918, which furnished headlines for the newspapers, and stories for some of the magazines."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Touring the Occupied Lands

Last week a visit to the Occupy DC movement in McPherson Square revealed an impressive level of awareness and a sense of settling in, as many braced for colder weather.
    Then I was in Providence, RI over the weekend for a conference of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), on the role of the arts and humanities in a democracy. The hotel was right across the street from the Occupy Providence forces, where tv crews did standup reports as commuters waited for their buses at the edge of the square. Impressive that some young people handling the protest's media tent could get college credit for their activism. Also impressive how seriously some in colleges and universities are about making education connect with the world in new ways, and with the arts to foster the empathy that many Occupiers yearn for. A good discussion after the screening of Soul of a People.
    Finally, passing back down from New England, I passed the half dozen tents that marked Occupy Poughkeepsie.
    In yesterday’s paper, Thomas Friedman drew the parallels and contrasts between the Occupiers and protesters in India: “Both countries are witnessing grass-roots movements against corruption and excess. The difference is that Indians are protesting what is illegal… And Americans are protesting what is legal – a system of Supreme Court-sanctioned bribery in the form of campaign donations that have enabled the financial-services industry to effectively buy the U.S. Congress… I think that repairing our respective dysfunctional democracies … is for our generation what the independence movement in India and the civil rights movement in America were for our parents’ generation.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Voices of Frustration

Well, things change in a week. The protest on Wall Street has gathered momentum in cities across the country. In TheRoot today, Chris Jenkins lets four skilled black professionals in DC speak for themselves on the frustrations of finding work now, in words that crystallize the protesters' concerns often better than the Occupiers themselves. Tyrone Jackson, an electrician, gives powerful expression to that experience and the lengths he's gone to -- hours back and forth between the city and Spotsylvania County, Virginia -- to find work.
    "You could build a house with a foundation with the types of people I know who have skills out here and can't find jobs," he says.
    Jenkins does right by Jackson and by the tradition of oral history.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What Happened to the Left?

In Michael Kazin’s recent essay in the New York Times, he pointed out that measures that became institutionalized during the New Deal – Social Security, minimum wage, occupational health -- didn’t come simply from popular outrage at the Great Depression; the issues had percolated through decades of steady work and clarification.
    It's ironic, Kazin says, that in many ways the great American middle class of the 1950s and 60s was built with the help of these programs, such as Social Security and Truman’s G.I. Bill, that many Americans deemed radical when they were first proposed.
    Conservatives took the lesson. When they were out of power in the 1970s, they responded by organizing and developing their own voice and infrastructure, including much of talk radio now.
    Now the tide has changed again, Kazin argues, and progressives need to fortify institutions and create a coherent movement that articulates anew how they propose to improve Americans’ lives. They cannot assume their programs are transparent in their benefits to Americans; they must organize.
   Yesterday Kazin was on National Public Radio discussing his argument with listeners and The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, who insisted that there are progressive movements that are demonstrating for changes in America. She blamed the media in part for not reporting on these movements, including the American Dream Movement.
    A final note: this week we say farewell to our friend Stetson Kennedy, who died last month. We say farewell with a celebration of his life tomorrow afternoon at his beloved home of many years, Beluthahatchee (the name means ‘place of peace’). If you’re near Jacksonville, turn out for what will be a remarkable party. Details at

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Amid Jobs Talk, Action for Creatives

In a show of innovation and rare unity, nearly a dozen private foundations have partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts to fund local-level arts projects, recognizing the arts are essential for community growth, economic and otherwise.
    Through a program called ArtPlace, a series of grants totaling $11.5 million (plus $12 million in corporate loans) will be distributed to 34 projects around the country.
    "Too many people think of the arts as luxuries," the Ford Foundation's Luis UbiƱas told the New York Times. "The arts are inherently valuable, and they're also part of what's going to get us out of this economic problem we're in."
    Besides Ford, other foundations involved are the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Rockefeller Found-ation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the James Irvine Found-ation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Robina Foundation.
    Federal agencies involved (not as funders) include no-nonsense departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Transportation, Education, and Health and Human Services.
    Of course, the grants total equals just two percent of what Ford gave out in grants for 2009. But the program gives a sense of action. In the 1930s only a tiny fraction of WPA and other recovery funds went to the arts.
    The Times article also notes that a second group of grants starts today. Groups have a month to submit applications on the ArtPlace website.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stetson Kennedy Delved into Florida Life

Stetson Kennedy records his wife Edith in 1939.

Stetson Kennedy, who died on Saturday as Hurricane Irene stormed up the East Coast, had a love of justice and relished how people faced life and its challenges. He was a few weeks short of his 95th birthday.
    As a teenager in Jacksonville, Florida, Kennedy worked for his father’s furniture store, sometimes collecting payments and other times having to repossess items people could no longer afford as the Great Depression worsened. A stove might still be hot from the last meal cooked on it when he hauled it off, he recalled in interviews for Soul of a People.
    Even then, Kennedy was struck by how Floridians spoke, black and white. He knew he was “hearing a subculture, or two subcultures really, that had significance and flavor.”
    As a student during the Great Depression, he studied natural science before leaving college and becoming a student of human nature. He started gathering folklore and sayings in the varied communities of Key West, where he met his first wife. He found it remarkable how the island’s Cuban community, despite poverty, “were really enjoying life in a way that I’d never seen anybody enjoying life. Even in hard times, people made time for song, dance, and food.
    Kennedy joined the Florida Writers’ Project in December 1937 and worked on it as editor and folklorist for several years. He worked with Zora Neale Hurston on Florida folklore for the WPA Guide to Florida, and corresponded with Richard Wright about Wright’s essays on how to depict black culture. (He later visited with Wright in France when both were expatriates in the 1950s.) In 1939 Kennedy led one leg of a recording expedition that used portable sound equipment from the Library of Congress to record the stories and songs of a richly varied southern Florida. He interviewed his first wife Edith and her Cuban relatives in Ybor City and recorded the life stories of Bahamian midwives further south.
    Having grown up privileged by a culture of segregation, Kennedy felt a responsibility to fight its injustices, and help expose those who exploited them in groups like the Ku Klux Klan. His undercover work led to him broadcast silly ritual codes in episodes of the Superman radio series in the late 1940s, and lay bare the brutal facts of their intimidation and terror. He ran for the U.S. Senate with a write-in candidacy in 1950, aided by a campaign song by Woody Guthrie. In his later years in Florida, he also championed environmental and labor causes. Kennedy’s life is the subject of a forthcoming film by Andrea Kalin. To learn more, visit the Stetson Kennedy website maintained by his grandson.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Writing Progress

Coming on the heels of a writing workshop myself, I came across this site for building writers' skills and sense of work. Nicely designed too:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Feeling the Heat of Hell

This current heat wave is shattering records that have stood since the 1930s Dust Bowl days. From Texas to Vermont, roads are shimmering molten and mirage-like as road crews gulp fluids to stay hydrated. The WPA writers captured the unworldly weather of that other time in their guides and books, including a photo essay about the devastating hurricane of 1938 that strafed New England.
    In the Midwest, the newly republished WPA guide to Nebraska shows us searing heat in the state’s western sandhills, where mostly pioneer families made a hard living. Sandhills native Mari Sandoz was a mentor to workers on the Nebraska WPA’s staff in Lincoln, and in the Nebraska guidebook they quoted her hardbitten memoir of her father, Old Jules, and her folklore studies including “Sandhill Sundays.” In that a traveling preacher translated the emotional weirdness of the harsh weather from the wagon where he spoke and conjured hell as he invited families to the relief of a lake baptism:
You see them heat waves out there on the prairie? Them’s the fires of hell, licking round your feet, burning your feet, burning your faces red as raw meat, drying up your crops, drawing the water out of your wells! You see them thunderheads, shining like mansions in the sky but spurting fire and shaking the ground under your feet? God is mad, mad as hell!
The account goes on to subvert the stereotype of backward rural people by describing how Sandhill communities held cultural events with spell-downs, singing and debates on issues like Popular Elections of Our Presidents. People traveled up to 40 miles to enjoy late night dances, with snacks at midnight. A good time to go out when the day is hot as volcanic brimstone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Watch Those Footsteps on the Capital Sidewalks

On the streets of Washington, DC these days, it’s easy to walk right past addresses that are not famous but from which great things – and barely-employed writers – sprang.
    When John Cheever was a hungry young editor on the Federal Writers’ Project, he lodged at Mrs. Gray’s boardinghouse at 2308 Twentieth Street, NW, one block north of Columbia Rd. It wasn't far from his WPA office job.
    A friend and coworker soon introduced Cheever to the capital’s social life. At parties Cheever clinked glasses with conservatives and radicals, Cubans and Danes. Back at the boardinghouse where he took his meals with other government lodgers, one older woman routinely denigrated WPA employees and their boondoggling at the dinner table. Cheever would pretend not to hear when she asked him to pass the gravy. Cheever's memories of DC were of humiliation and conformity.
    Years earlier, Langston Hughes lived just a few blocks away on S Street, NW, in the orbit of Duke Ellington’s U Street neighborhood. From 1924-26 Hughes combined literary work with a job as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel (now the Marriott Wardman) at 2660 Woodley Rd. There he was “discovered” in 1926 by a white editor, Vachel Lindsay, who dubbed Hughes the “busboy poet” (see the Guide to Black Washington and Busboys and Poets).
    During the 1930s, Hughes made friends with young WPA writers Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison in Harlem. And he was good friends with Zora Neale Hurston, co-writing a play with her before they went separate ways.
    Hurston herself lived closer to Howard University during her time studying and working as a waitress in Washington years before.
    Who knows what yet-unknown creative hits the pavement every morning from another anonymous DC address, looking for work? Bringing reading and jobs together, the DC public library recently put together a good online toolbox for those jobseekers.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Margaret Walker

This month there are several chances to see Soul of a People: Writing America's Story on the Smithsonian Channel. (Check here for times.)
    Today would be the 96th birthday of Margaret Walker, who was just out of college when she applied for a spot on the Federal Writers’ Project in Chicago. She had grown up in the oppressive segregation of Alabama, and turned to the books of her father, a minister, to escape. After college she almost married a young minister herself, but her mother urged her to make another path for her life. With few options for jobs in depressed Chicago, she lied about her age and got work as a WPA writer, meeting up very soon with other writers like Richard Wright and Nelson Algren. It was there, she later said, that she found her voice as a poet.
This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems    "I changed from the very romantic and sentimental type of poetry to a very realistic and factual type of poetry," she said. "I was very conscious of making that change."
    She became willing to explore characters hit hard by their circumstances. She submitted her collection For My People to the Yale Younger Poets competition three years in a row. In 1942 it won. She went on to publish many more collections as well as a bestselling novel, Jubilee.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

School Libraries Under Fire


My early memories of reading take me back to the library at Washington Mill Elementary, where in third or fourth grade I spent hours poring over a series of biographies along with occasional scifi like A Wrinkle in Time. That was where I caught my appetite for life stories, one that nourishes me still – both intangibly and with food on the table.
    So it hurts to read that school districts across the country are eliminating libraries and librarian positions. In Oregon, all 48 librarians in the Salem-Keizer school district’s elementary and middle schools face layoffs in a budget that will be voted on this week.
    True, more classrooms are using laptops and iPads so students can do research without going to the library, but libraries are still where kids can learn skills they need to use those tools and analyze their searches and results, says Nancy Everhart, who leads a national association of school librarians, in the New York Times. In libraries they can find interests they might not otherwise see.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Three Writers Tackle History

Last Saturday at the AIW Writers' Conference held at The Writer's Center, a trio of fine authors -- Barbara Esstman, C.M. Mayo and Natalie Wexler -- surrounded the challenges and opportunities of historical fiction from three sides. Here are C.M. Mayo's insights (plus a fine reading list for any writer) on her blog after the event.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Footsteps at Night: 1930s California

Los Angeles in the 1930s: The WPA Guide to the City of Angels (WPA Guides)Okay, forgive me first for pointing out Library Journal's glowing review of Soul of a People. They call it a “touching, straightforward, and well-paced look” at this slice of American history, “a welcome addition to literature and history collections.” My partners on the film and I couldn’t agree more.
    Just in the last two months come two reprints of WPA guides, with insightful new introductions by David Kipen: the WPA Guide to Los Angeles, with an essay that points out the bubbling L.A. scene when the book was first written, with early film noir and Orson Welles, and late F. Scott Fitzgerald. Southern California was even more beautiful than now, and a magnet for fascinating people. “If only some benevolent patron had stepped in and commissioned a panorama of prewar Los Angeles,” Kipen writes. “In other words, if only there existed the book that you … now hold in your hand.” He is as lavish with San Francisco, where he lived for years.
    This is how the stories and footsteps of the past stay with us. As I come from burying my father this week, this is on my mind: mixing stories with histories.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amadou and Mariam: Storytellers for Change 3

The other week I had the great opportunity to speak with the Malian duo Amadou and Mariam as they headed to China on their concert tour. The two just published a memoir, titled Away from the Light of Day, recorded a new CD, and are planning another exciting series of concerts.
    Read what they have to say about their memoir, and changes in the lives of Malian musicians today, on Afropop Worldwide's site.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Music Against Malaria: Storytellers for Change 2

For World Malaria Day, here’s my conversation with Yacine Djibo, country director for Malaria No More, from my recent trip to Senegal.
    There as in Mali, the campaign to fight malaria highlights musicians committed to wiping the scourge from the countryside. In Dakar, Djibo described their intensive campaign to “surround malaria.” It involves Youssou NDour, catchy melodies, and an American Idol-style national contest. Watch the spot that appears every night on Senegalese TV.
    Djibo says their campaign also offers a starting point for early diagnosis and better prevention with antimalarial drugs. Senegal’s cases of malaria have declined steeply in two years, according to this recent report by Roll Back Malaria.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Storytellers as Change Agents in West Africa?

In Bamako on Sunday, I got to a wedding event (they spread through the weekend) where the families gathered and griots sang their praises. Griot is sometimes translated as "storyteller," and as a caste they have a fascinating and precarious place in Mali society and across West Africa: they traditionally depend on the patronage of wealthy families whose stories they sing at events, but they also sometimes speak truth to power.
    In this photo the female griot at right sings praises to the accompaniment of the djembe drummers in the foreground.
In Griot Time    Banning Eyre's book, In Griot Time, is a fun way into his story of learning Malian guitar from griots.
    In a growing global push against malaria, some health advocacy campaigns in Mali have enlisted griots. Recognizing how they have the ear of everyday people and thought leaders, the campaigns invite griots to integrate lyrics about how mosquito nets help protect children from getting malaria into their work. Some griots at the local-level have included that messaging at wedding gigs.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Now for Something Completely Different

Now in West Africa for a month with an IRP reporting fellowship, and just getting my bearings in Mali's capital with a walk through the main market. Two quick and simple observations on the changes since Richard Wright's tour of these countries at independence just over a half century ago:
1) West African fashion is timeless but changes in communication and public relations move at warp speed (I exaggerate). Witness the teeming boys on every corner selling cellphone minutes, and a heightened perception by everyone here of how the world sees images from Africa. They know journalists usually go for the poverty-makes-sympathy shot.
    Twice I framed a photo and got the stink eye. First an older man insisted I pay for the opportunity (he relented when I sounded incredulous about paying a building to take its picture). Then a teenage girl said my shot of people at a railroad crossing was "pas beau" -- not pretty. Both showed a consciousness of putting Mali's best foot forward and not getting exploited.
2) Impressive variety of food in the popular market. Where are they growing cool-weather items like lettuce? Lots of potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, mangoes, beets, peppers, fish of various sizes, and much more. And this is the hot season when wind kicks up dust and the temp spills over 100F.
The billboard for the cellphone and Internet service provider says 'Business is Everywhere.'

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reporting on Civil War in the Mediterranean

An amazing exhibit at the International Center for Photography in New York captures the images of three photojournalists as they peered through their lenses at the Spanish Civil War. All three came from elsewhere in Europe: Robert Capa, born in Hungary; Gerda Taro from Germany; and David Seymour (aka Chim) from Poland.
    The Spanish Civil War itself came from elsewhere in some ways. Many across Europe saw it as a foretaste of the ideological battle looming for the rest of Europe, between Fascism and its opponents. Hitler and Mussolini backed Francisco Franco’s army. The Soviet Union and communists elsewhere supported the Republican forces. For many progressive Americans, volunteering in the “Lincoln brigade” in Spain to support the Republic was a test of ideals.
    The Mexican Suitcase exhibit is dramatic for its story of how the photographers came together in love and friendship in a war zone, as well as how their story in images became a time capsule, lost for decades before emerging from a single valise.
    It’s especially resonant now as another wave of violent change shakes Libya and the Mediterranean.
    For many WPA writers in the U.S., the Spanish Civil War posed a crisis of conscience: Would they go abroad and put their lives on the line for fellow travelers for the cause of a more egalitarian world? Richard Wright wrote his friend Nelson Algren back in Chicago, asking that very question.
    In California, WPA writer Eluard Luchell McDaniel was one who responded. He had run away from Mississippi at age 10 and worked his way across America, growing up through odd jobs along the way, and writing. After gaining notice when his fiction appeared in Story magazine in 1935, he went to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade before returning to San Francisco.
    Just as it did when Gerda Taro lost her life covering the war in Spain, bearing witness can still mean risking everything. Recently photojournalist and former IRP fellow Chris Hondros died while covering the civil war in Libya. Read about him and the continuing perils of war reporting here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Patti Smith and Mari Sandoz, Kindred Spirits

In her wonderful memoir Just Kids, Patti Smith honors inspiration she gained from another writer during her formative time living in the Chelsea Hotel:
I thought of something I learned from reading Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz. Crazy Horse believes that he will be victorious in battle, but if he stops to take spoils from the battlefield, he will be defeated. He tattoos lightning bolts on the ears of his horses so the sight of them will remind him of this as he rides. I tried to apply this lesson to the things at hand, careful not to take spoils that were not rightfully mine. I decided I wanted a similar tattoo.
Such an insight about Crazy Horse is just the thing that attracted readers to Sandoz, a daughter of Swiss immigrants in the sandhills of western Nebraska. Like Smith herself, Sandoz overcame huge obstacles to become a writer. Her own father once told her, "You know I consider writers and artists the maggots of society."
    Sandoz grew up on a farm near the Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge, and they were part of her childhood. "I remember the stern faces of the Sioux when in the swift heat of temper my father whipped us," she recalled later. "These Indians still consider the whites a brutal people who treat their children like enemies …"
    One day, walking home with a bundle of wood, she came upon an old Sioux man and stopped to watch as he danced alone. The old warrior called her "granddaughter" and told her his story.
    Later as a colleague and friend of WPA folklore director Ben Botkin, Sandoz blazed new trails in her interviews for her biography of Crazy Horse. She was considered for the job of state director of the WPA Writers’ Project in Nebraska.
    Rudolph Umland, a young WPA editor in Lincoln, saw Sandoz as a mentor and respected the toughness she showed from her youth on the farm. Years later he still remembered her stories of growing up poor, wearing dresses made from flour sacks and old men’s shoes laced with twine.
    "She knew what it was like to be made fun of," Umland wrote. "No woman bent on being a literary person ever had the cards stacked against her more ... She once showed me a knot on her hand that came from a bone broken during one of [her father's] beatings."
    In the 1930s, her book about her father, Old Jules, won the prestigious Atlantic Press nonfiction prize. Sandoz became a leading Nebraska author, and hosted social gatherings of younger writers in her Lincoln apartment. The topics ranged from writing dialogue to demonstrations of Polish dances she had learned as a girl.
    Sandoz belonged to no group or movement, but savored these discussions with younger writers.
    "There were an awful lot of young creative people around," she said of 1930s Lincoln in a 1961 interview. "We were angry over the suppression of ideas in America."
    By the 1960s, Sandoz was living in Greenwich Village, not far from where Patti Smith later took up residence in the Chelsea. Sandoz's spirit was honored by Umland and his colleagues in the Nebraska WPA guide, which ranked her Old Jules among the most important pieces of prose from Nebraska since Willa Cather’s novels. "Mari Sandoz treats epic material boldly," says the guide, "with scrupulous honesty."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WPA Guide Appreciators week continues

While we're on the topic of people who value the WPA guides, here's a post by El Prez about his battered copy of the WPA Almanac for New Yorkers, 1938. Bought from a sidewalk vendor years ago, it includes an inscription from M.W. Wellman, one of the WPA writers who worked on it, inscribed with holiday wishes to "one of his debtors." Wellman even points the reader to pages with good and bad jokes. Possibly the same M.W. Wellman who wrote several issues of Strange Adventures for DC Comics in 1951?
    El Prez noticed that 1938 and 2011 align not just in their parallel hard times, but in the dates and days of the week. He found the New York Times beat him to the idea of providing a scan of the 1938 almanac for people in 2011 to use. Thanks, Gray Lady!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Oklahoma lawyer and the WPA guide

I'm curious about this blog, Oklahoma DUI Lawyer, and why a recent post features a 1986 reprint of the WPA guide to Oklahoma. Straightforward description of the book: just the facts, ma'am. But still intriguing ...

Monday, January 3, 2011

De Niro Art Goes Back to the WPA

Actor Robert De Niro's parents were both artists with the WPA in New York in the 1930s when the arts program helped many get through the Depression. Other WPA artists then included Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Robert De Niro Sr.'s art works made news recently when the actor took control as manager of his father's art legacy. His mother, Virginia Admiral, was a poet as well as a painter. Both parents belonged to the Greenwich Village art community. This article about New York abstract expressionism recounts the roots of that group in the Federal Art Project; the 2006 De Kooning biography gives a good feel for it.
August 2014 postscript: A new HBO documentary about Robert De Niro, Sr. traces his beginnings and study with Hans Hofmann in Massachusetts, his promising first exhibitions, as well as his later struggles and his relationship with his son. Watch the trailer at