David Kipen Opinion contributor – USA TODAY
Congress is going to the movies this week, and you’re invited.
Rep. Ted Lieu has arranged a free public virtual screening for the nation – and for his colleagues on the Hill – of Soul of a People, a terrific Smithsonian documentary about the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s. This follows a bill he and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez introduced in May, the 21st-Century Federal Writers’ Project Act, which is jockeying for inclusion this week in the upcoming $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package.
The bill would hire 900 writers to reinvent a New Deal initiative whose work can still educate and delight readers 85 eighty years later. Among the Federal Writers’ Project’s many gifts, it created the American Guides, a shelf of useful, cheap, shockingly well-written book-length explorations of all 48 states at the time, plus Puerto Rico and Alaska. The Project also recorded roughly 10,000 oral histories around the country, including 2,300 invaluable interviews with formerly enslaved people.
At a $3.5 trillion concession stand, the $60 million it would take to hire 900 writers (including editors, photographers, web developers, librarians and teachers) barely amounts to a Raisinet. Of all the major bills currently eligible for the package, HR 3054 may just be the smallest. But if it succeeds, a new Federal Writers’ Project might also, someday, number among the most important.