The Works Progress Administration (1935–1943) housed America’s largest arts funding program ever, part of the New Deal’s foray into nationwide work relief. In Massachusetts its acronym could well have stood for “Writers, Plumbers, and Anarchists,” in tribute to the state’s distinctive contribution to the writers’ wing of the program. Beginning in 1935, the Massachusetts writers’ project took a huge range of white- and blue-collar workers off the breadlines and put them to work as government writers. This motley group produced approximately two dozen state, regional, and community guides, which included stories that ran the gamut from the quirky to the disturbing. WPA writers in the state were routinely accused of being “plumbers” and, after publication of the state guide, the project was accused of supporting anarchists and other subversives.
The Massachusetts writers’ project was often mired in dramas and scandals. The most notorious concerned the censorship of guidebook copy on the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, the true story of which remained hidden for almost seventy years. Struggles also broke out over the representation of people of color, as the guides shifted the state’s image away from an ethnically homogeneous “cradle of the nation” to a much more culturally diverse and politically volatile society.
Making excellent use of the extensive surviving records, Christine Bold offers a unique glimpse into what New Deal pieties meant in practice for the “worker-writers” in its employ. As the first book to pursue the WPA writers’ project in a single state, this work probes the Massachusetts experience to discover the consequences of New Deal patronage for writers-in-the-making, for community image-making, and for minority groups attempting to achieve cultural citizenship in America.