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The People's Recorder

As Americans grapple with the unprecedented crises of our time, we gain strength and insight from seeing how our communities responded to emergencies in our past. From the catastrophe of the Great Depression emerged a national-scale portrait in resilience.  That crisis not only brought WPA guides to states and cities and oral histories, but also yielded new models for arts and cultural innovation. Using the intimate stories of New Deal writers, artists and the people who inspired them, The People’s Recorder is a new podcast series that connects audiences today with the 1930s-era tumult and life lessons that still illuminate today.

The podcast traces a journey through communities across the country, following the ups and downs of everyday people through the focusing lens of the Federal Writers’ Project and other New Deal arts programs. These creators had a mandate to paint a America, as it stood, warts and all. Facing realities of injustice, inequality, racism and poverty, they found new ways to tell these stories: oral histories, guide route narratives, audio recordings, and epic murals. The podcast follows that path from Florida to the Upper Midwest and from the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters.

The People’s Recorder podcast will draw upon the wealth of research and resources gathered for Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story and its companion book by David Taylor, including hundreds of hours of archival footage and audio, thousands of manuscript pages and original interviews with acclaimed historians and authors, such as Douglas Brinkley, Amy Bloom, James McBride, Maryemma Graham, Dagoberto Gilb, Reynolds Price, Richard Ford and David Bradley, as well as original interviews with Project alums Stetson Kennedy and Studs Terkel.

The People’s Recorder turns a clear, unassuming lens on Americans then and now, with provocative viewpoints, deep dives, humor and ever-curious hosts. As Studs Terkel once said, “People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our being.”

The People’s Recorder is currently in development with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Florida Humanities, Virginia Humanities, Wisconsin Humanities, California Humanities and Humanities Nebraska.   

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