Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers To Rediscover America

Farrar. Jun. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9780374298456. $30. LIT
The Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal program to provide work for unemployed writers during the Great Depression, existed for just a few years (1935–43) but left a lasting legacy, which includes the American Guide Series of travel books, and the careers of many notable authors. Borchert has written a fascinating and highly readable history of the quixotic effort to produce travel guides to every American state. He captures the bureaucratic chaos of the project without dwelling on minutiae. Many prominent writers spent time working on the project, but Borchert looks most closely at the contributions of Nelson Algren, Vardis Fisher, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright. The chapters on Hurston and Wright are especially interesting; they detail the writers’ struggling with segregated spaces within the project, and their efforts to publish accurate depictions of the lives of Black Americans in the 1930s. The book’s focus is primarily literary, but it has an undercurrent of politics; many of the authors employed on the project were Communists who drew the scrutiny of Congress several years before the real start of the Red Scare.
VERDICT This fascinating and enjoyable volume is recommended for all readers interested in American literary history.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing