The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Federal Readers Project

May 27, 2009
Washington, DC

It's understandable that some folks might still think of The Big Read as a small-town program, since the NEA has run several showcase Reads in hamlets whose populations could fit comfortably inside our DC building's food court. But The Big Read also works in towns of size, and evidence of one such nearby has just crossed my desk. It's New Deal Washington, a handsomely produced, gracefully written, deeply informative 16-page booklet detailing DC locales where the FDR's Works Progress Administration (WPA) planned and, in one or two instances, executed some of its best projects. The handiwork of local poet and gifted Big Read trooper Kim Roberts, New Deal Washington fills a niche for DC-based WPA tourism so admirably that it may become a staple around town well beyond the conclusion of Washington's Carson McCullers read.

The WPA in general, and the Federal Writers Project (FWP) in particular, have long provided a not-so-secret inspiration for TBR. Downloading a copy of Kim's New Deal Washington map and wandering over to the former site of Vermont Avenue's Federal One, as the FWP's offices were known, is the next-best thing to a time machine for any WPA aficionado.

Rather than a small-town program, maybe it's more accurate to think of The Big Read as a program that helps make any city, whatever its size -- thanks to efforts like Kim's fine brochure -- feel just a little less oppressively big?

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