chapter  5
19 Pages

The WPA and the Southern Country Poor: Life Histories or

ByCase Studies?

Ever since their inception in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (1851), life sketches of ordinary people have been a constituent of democratic, or at least non-elitist, cultural programs. These “life histories,” as they came to be called, have always been taken as the voice of the people, contesting the grand narratives of historical process-or at least offering an alternative perspective on them. Thus Studs Terkel’s Division Street, America (1966), Hard Times (1970) and The Good War (1984) presented the voices of Chicagoans talking about their jobs and their city, offering their recollections of the Great Depression and World War II. More recently True Tales of American Lives (2002), edited by the New York novelist Paul Auster, collected moving autobiographical fragments sent in by listeners to a program on National Public Radio.