My fellow booksellers in these parts were recently advised to research and stock books created under the auspices of the FDR-era “Federal Writers’ Project,” a tax-and-spend-and-elect outfit created in 1935 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.
That’s good advice as far as it goes. Writers who later became well-known, from Nelson Algren to Richard Wright, from John Cheever to Studs Terkel to Ralph Ellison, were indeed at one time or another on the federal dole during the late 1930s, drawing pay from the aforementioned Writers’ Project to work on state-by-state guidebooks, or any other make-work schemes the New Deal bureaucrats could dream up. (Artists unable to produce works anyone would purchase voluntarily were even hired to do mosaics in subway stations, beginning a great tradition of forcing bad, urine-stained works of art on those who had been stripped of the right to refuse to fund them.)
Even though the contributions of these notables-to-be were generally anonymous, most of these guidebooks can be worth a few bucks; it’s wise to keep an eye out for them.
The Library of Congress started more than a decade ago digging piles of Writers’ Project material out of tax-funded warehouses and deciding what to do with it. This apparently included deciding which of it to make available to the public — an interesting role for a government agency to assign itself, given that all this stuff was funded by taxpayers.