August 11, 2009
Elizabeth Blevins, Director, Office of Communications
Office: (740) 351-3810; FAX: (740) 351-3179; Cell: (740) 464-4854
940 Second Street – Portsmouth, Ohio 45662
Web site: www.shawnee.edu
State University’s Clark Memorial Library receives ‘Soul of
a People’ grant
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office as president
of the United States in 1933, the country was in the middle
of the Great Depression. Thousands of people were out of
work in every city across the United States and Roosevelt
formed the Works Progress Administration that hired millions
of people to work on roads, bridges and schools.
A very small part of the WPA project was for artists,
writers, musicians and actors. Travel guides documenting
American life were created for the Federal Writers’ Project.
The writers told America’s story with local history,
culture, and interviews with local people for travel guides
and state guides they produced.
Writers like Studs Terkel, Richard Wright, Zora Neale
Hurston, Nelson Algren, Ralph Ellison, Eudora Welty, John
Cheever and Jim Thompson created a permanent record of life
during that era in American history. Some writers went on to
win National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. At its
peak, the project employed more than 6,600 people in 48
The project was considered the largest cultural experiment
in U.S. history. Writers interviewed former slaves and
recorded the life histories of citizens all across America.
Local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children’s
books and state guides were a result of the project with 200
volumes published including 48 state guides and 4,000 life
histories collected that include slave narratives.
Through a grant from the National Endowment for the
Humanities, Clark Memorial Library at Shawnee State
University is one of only 30 libraries in the country chosen
to provide an outreach program in connection with an
upcoming documentary on Smithsonian Channel HD, “Soul of a
People: Writing America’s Story.” The documentary is a major
television program that will air at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept.
6, Monday, Sept. 7 and Monday, Sept. 14.
“We have plans for a number of events in conjunction with
the Portsmouth Library and the Southern Ohio Museum that
will introduce people to the Federal Writers’ Project and to
the amazing resources it created,” said Connie Stoner, Clark
Memorial Library director. “We look forward to sharing these
resources with our community.”
The “Soul of a People” kickoff will be an all-day event from
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at the Portsmouth
Public Library. For the complete schedule of events, go to