Featured Library: Kansas City Public Library
Angela Hanshaw | September 11, 2009
The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) helped define America and American literature by supporting literary talent during the Great Depression. In association with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association, the Kansas City Public Library commemorates the seventy-fifth anniversary of this New Deal program with a series of free events throughout September and October 2009, including a screening of the documentary Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story.
Scheduled events include:
Jerrold Hirsch leads a discussion called “Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal Writers’ Project,” examining the lasting value derived from this New Deal–era program. Hirsch is a professor of history at Truman State University.
Scholar Norman Yetman presents “Voices from Slavery: WPA Slave Narratives.” The event offers an in-depth look at oral history interviews with former slaves conducted by FWP writers. The effort to record and preserve these voices was a major FWP priority. Yetman is a professor emeritus of American studies and sociology at the University of Kansas.
Geographer Walter Schroeder examines The WPA Guide to Missouri. The Missouri installment of the American Guide series satisfies Missouri skepticism by offering a staggering array of facts that makes the guide a valuable resource even sixty-eight years later. Schroeder, assistant professor emeritus of geography at the University of Missouri-Columbia, edited Missouri: The WPA Guide to the “Show Me” State, published in 1998.
Film director Andrea Kalin introduces a screening of her documentary Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story. This major documentary television program about the Federal Writers’ Project, broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel HD, serves as the basis for the entire “Soul of a People” series at the library.
Former University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway presents “Jump at the Sun: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston.” Already a prominent literary figure, Hurston became an editor for the Florida edition of the American Guide series and supervisor for the Negro unit of the state FWP in April of 1938. Hemenway is author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography, an important contribution to the critical reassessment and public rediscovery of Hurston.
Musicologist Andrew Granade leads an introduction to the life and work of composer Virgil Thompson, with screenings of two short documentaries featuring his scores. A native of Kansas City, Thomson became a leading voice in American music whose influence rivaled that of Aaron Copeland. Granade specializes in twentieth-century music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“Box Office Gold: Cinema of the 1930s,” a selection of films produced during the Great Depression will be screened on Mondays and Saturdays throughout September.
A selection of Depression-era newsreels every weekday from 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. will also be screened throughout September. These newsreel compilations will include vintage footage of prominent national figures such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as slice-of-life reports on ordinary Americans and updates on the slow economic recovery.
Check out the library’s events via the Kansas City Public Library’s Soul of a People Flickr collection.
Angela Hanshaw is Program Officer/Web Editor for the ALA Public Programs Office.