For writers of the 1930s, economic hardship was central to their work. Journalist Boog, West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly, combines personal reflections about the challenges writers face today with a well-researched, sometimes digressive look back at writers of the “Crisis Generation,” who struggled during the Great Depression. “My book is dedicated to the stories of poets, novelists, and journalists who never made it” but whose dedication to telling stories of the downtrodden makes them worth remembering.
They include poets Maxwell Bodenheim, Kenneth Fearing, and Muriel Rukeyser (“systematically excluded” from the poetry academy, according to Adrienne Rich); Cornell Woolrich, “grandfather of the hardboiled noir”; and Nathanael West, whose Miss Lonelyhearts had paltry sales when it was first published only to be acclaimed 50 years later, long after West died.
The writers of the Crisis Generation identified with “workers of all kinds,” marching with them for jobs and fair pay. Unlike writers today, who Boog claims are “unorganized, broke, and easily manipulated,” those of the Crisis Generation saw themselves as activists, responding to and bearing witness to life in the 1930s.
Many were given jobs through the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration; others supported one another through organizations such as the Raven Poetry Circle, which became a “home for struggling readers and writers,” and the American Writers Union, which lobbied for writers’ rights. “The writers in the 1930s,” notes Boog, “forced newspapers to pay a living wage, pushed publishers to establish more humane working conditions, rewrote the way books were sold in department stores, and convinced the government to create a federal bailout that put thousands of writers around the country back to work.”
The author sees the Sunrise Movement, a supporter of the Green New Deal, as a model for activism in “a world of inequality and catastrophe;” and he urges writers—and readers—to “rekindle the radical ideas” that distinguished the Crisis Generation. Passionate homage to forgotten writers who speak to our own times.
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Pub Date: July 9, 2020
Page Count: 232
Publisher: OR Books
Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020
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