Federal Writers’ Project

Congressional Democrats Ted Lieu (California) and Teresa Leger Fernandez (New Mexico) have introduced a new bill, “The 21st Century Federal Writers’ Project”, which proposes $60 million in funding to non-profit organizations, libraries, news organizations, and writing-related unions to sup­port writers who lost income during the pandemic. The proposed legislation is inspired by the Federal Writers’ Project from 1935, which employed thou­sands of writers during the Great Depression. One goal of the legislation is to “create a nationally ad­ministered and searchable repository that archives the stories of America’s history,” and it would also “document the pandemic’s impact on American life, honor the lives lost to COVID-19, employ struggling writers and academics and create a national archive of work from our time, just as the original FWP left us with a rich collection of guide­books and oral histories, including the first-person Slave Narratives.” David Kipen, former director of literature at the NEA, first suggested the idea in an LA Times article in May 2020, and began to gather support from legislators and writing organizations. The Authors Guild helped craft the bill and says, “Like its predecessor launched during the Great Depression, the new Federal Writers Project will serve the twofold objectives of supporting talented unemployed and underemployed writers, while also creating an important written record of the many ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to impact our country.” Other sup­porters include Jonathan Letham, who said, “The first Federal Writer’s Project helped illuminate our diverse and harmonic national identity in the form of the state Guides, while inscribing an essential record of remembrance in the form of the Slave Narrative collection. Out of that era of hardship came lasting contributions to our literature. There could be no more splendid and appropriate time to reenact such an enlightened gesture of Ameri­can self-reflection and kinship.” For more, see Lieu’s website.

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