The Authors Guild is proud to endorse Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez’s bill to create a new Federal Writers’ Project, which will be formally introduced in the House tomorrow, May 7, on the 86thanniversary of the creation of the Works Progress Administration, which included the original the Federal Writers’ Project.
Like its predecessor launched during the Great Depression, the new Federal Writers’ Project will serve to support talented unemployed and underemployed writers, while also creating an important written record of the many ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to impact our country. At its peak, the original Federal Writers’ Project employed more than 6,000 writers, historians, librarians, editors, teachers and others to document the stories and experiences of the Great Depression through guidebooks, oral histories and other projects, including Zora Neale Hurston’s chronicles of first-person slave narratives, many of which were published in her 1937 book Their Eyes Were Watching God.
The new Federal Writers’ Project would provide much-needed support to writers suffering from income losses because of the pandemic. The Authors Guild conducted several surveys this past year to see how writers’ incomes were affected by the pandemic and found that, by January, over two thirds had lost a significant portion of their income—almost half of their pre-pandemic incomes on average—due to the loss of freelance journalism work, speaking engagements and teaching jobs, as well as low book sales due to bookstore closures. It is imperative that we support our writers today to ensure that they can keep writing and can document and help us make sense of the myriad ways in which the pandemic has impacted our lives and the fabric of our society, many of which are still unknown.
The pandemic has taken over half a million lives and upended millions more by worsening economic precarity, particularly among communities of color. But these statistics only tell part of the story. We commend Rep. Lieu and Rep. Fernandez and their staffs for their efforts in reviving the Federal Writers’ Project to reach beyond statistics and give voice to the actual experiences of individuals and communities. We are also grateful to Rep. Lieu for including our suggestions to expand the scope of the program to include the broader effects of the pandemic and to include language in the bill to ensure that participating writers are credited for their work.