Librarian’s fascination leads to obsession with Federal Writers Project

Photos like this one of a young soap box derby contestant appear at the Federal Writers Project links at the Library of Congress.

By Matthew Kogut


After developing an obsession with a topic that fascinated her, librarian Susan DeMasi spent a semester exploring the Federal Writers Project.

“I went from interested to obsessed about this project,” DeMasi said of  the work that was completed during her sabbatical in the Spring 2009 semester. DeMasi, Associate Professor of Library Services, gave a presentation at the library on Oct. 17 during common hour from 11a.m. -12:15 p.m. The eye opening powerpoint and speaking engagement was about the Federal W riters’ Project, FWP.

The FWP was a part of the Works Progress Administration. It was a project set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. The idea was to get unemployed writers back to work during the Great Depression. It lasted from 1935-1943 with over 1,000 titles being published.

In an interview conducted with Ms. DeMassi via e-mail, she stated that she came across this topic while doing other research and became fascinated with how much they accomplished in such a short amount of time. She did some intial research last fall and spent the Spring of 2009 completing it. During the interview she said, “For my sabbatical, I went to the Library of Congress in Washington, the New York Public Library and the New York City Municipal Archives. I was able to do some research using the Internet and by mail connecting with librarians at the University of Rochester and University of Oregon.” She spent her sabbatical at most of these places, and she also wrote a play on the FWP and produced the slideshow which was shown during the presentation.

 As for putting these writers back to work, the idea was to write a guide book of the United States. The chore was to write an American Guide Series. Something occurred while this project was underway. As many of 10,000 narratives were taken from men and women and were also published into books. These were ordinary men and woman, but they were people of many different ethnic groups, ex-slaves, and immigrants. These were people who helped make up the United States. As part of the American Guide Series, encyclopedias, and childrens books were also written. As stated before, thousands of books ended up being published. The federal funding of the project ended around 1939 but the FWP continued until 1943.

The Huntington Library, where the presentation was held,  often has many events and presentations going on. Often, there are also many displays of artwork and paintings displayed on the walls and are often done by students of the College. If you are interested in learning about any other upcoming events at the Huntington Library, you can always go to the library homepage which can be found by going onto the school website which is Just click on the library link. If you are interested in, and would like to learn more about the FWP and the WPA, you can go to the website :

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