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Men at Work: Rediscovering Depression-era Stories from the Federal Writers' Project

Overview

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal program of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided relief jobs to millions of Americans. One facet of the WPA was the hiring of men and women to document the history and folklore of America so as to capture the “soul” of the nation. While researching at the Montana Historical Society Research Center more than a decade ago, historian Matthew Basso stumbled upon copies of six stories that had been submitted for inclusion in a volume titled Men at Work. They ...

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Men at Work: Rediscovering Depression-era Stories from the Federal Writers' Project

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Overview

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal program of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided relief jobs to millions of Americans. One facet of the WPA was the hiring of men and women to document the history and folklore of America so as to capture the “soul” of the nation. While researching at the Montana Historical Society Research Center more than a decade ago, historian Matthew Basso stumbled upon copies of six stories that had been submitted for inclusion in a volume titled Men at Work. They arrived too late to be considered. Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) staff had already chosen thirty-four stories from submissions across the country and the volume was nearing publication. In the end, however, that publication was waylaid by the eruption of World War II and the manuscript was forgotten. Now, Basso is bringing these rediscovered stories to their intended audience—the American people.

Works of fiction that have a creative nonfiction feel, these narratives stem from direct observation of or participation in the work described and offer portraits of Americans from diverse ethnic backgrounds who labored in jobs as varied as logging, mining, fruit packing, and rodeo riding. The writers, directed by editor Harold Rosenberg, also represent a variety of backgrounds and experience. Some, like Jack Conroy, Jim Thompson, and Chester Himes, became strong voices in the literary world. The vivid accounts in Men at Work illuminate the meaning of work during a time when jobs were scarce and manual labor highly valued. With our country once again in financial crisis and workers facing an anemic job market, today’s readers will find these stories especially poignant.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Reminds me of Studs Terkel’s Hard Times along with Anne Banks’s First Person America. This book will interest those who are fascinated by labor history or anyone who is interested in the social history of the 1930s and the Great Depression.”—Brian Cannon, Director, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, Brigham Young University

 "Men at Work is a peerless contribution to our gaining a deeper understanding of actual labor in the Depression era. Matthew Basso has rescued narratives that are must reading for anyone concerned with the lives of ordinary Americans. This volume offers a chance to hear their voices.”
—Alan Wald, H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781607811893
  • Publisher: University of Utah Press
  • Publication date: 8/31/2012
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Basso is an assistant professor of history and gender studies, and director of the American West Center at the University of Utah. He is a coeditor of Across the Great Divide: Cultures of Manhood in the American West.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xv

Original Preface Harold Rosenberg 1

Section I Times Have Changed

Drift Miner Jack Conroy 11

Logging in the Rain Charles Oluf Olsen 16

Save the Peavies Robert Wilder 23

The Fish are Running Charles Oluf Olsen 27

Wild Bill Aida C. Parker 34

The Boomer Fireman's Fast Sooner Hound Jack Conroy 39

Mules Ain't Jackasses Grace Winkleman 43

The Driller Ned DeWitt 52

"Snake" Magee and the Rotary Boiler Jim Thompson 64

Sade Duggett Ned DeWitt 68

Discontinued Model Francis Donovan 79

The Type Louse Jack Conroy 86

Section II Time Stands Still

Basílico Garduño, New Mexican Sheepherder Lorin W. Brown 93

A Tabaquero Talks Edmund Sharrock 107

Navaho Trader Sanford L. Hassell 115

An Organ Builder's Soliloquy Carroll Whaley 126

Section III Modem Times

Part 1 The Producers

Anaconda Edward B. Reynolds 137

Cannery Row Gail Hazard 145

The Fruit Packers John Delgado 155

Still Operator James Phelan 163

Pogy Boat Robert Cornwall 172

Shingletown Verne Bright 186

Mine Timekeeper Clair C. Anderson 195

Greedy-Gut Gus, the Car Toad Jack Conroy 205

San Francisco Longshore Gang Sam Kutnick 209

Part 2 Selling the Public

Tobacco Auctioneer Leonard Rapport 219

Pay Dirt Isaac Schwartz 225

Slappy Hooper, World's Biggest, Fastest, and Bestest Sign Painter Jack Conroy 232

Part 3 The Artists

Jazz Music: Chicago Style Sam Ross 239

Everything's Dangerous Ralph Powell 242

Soup Circuit M. B. Moser Isaac Schwartz 251

Sven, the Hundred Proof Irishman Edward Miller 256

Part 4 For the Future

Salmon for the Columbia Howard McKinley Corning 263

The Shipyards Get a Welder Chester Himes 275

Contributors' Biographies 301

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