This by no means ensured the smooth sailing of the project. Florida experienced the same battles over control (in terms of administrative problems and editorial decisions) that characterized the FWP nationally.

(Katherine Kellock makes an interesting and cryptic reference to some of these bureaucratic struggles at the end of a letter to Henry Alsberg. "Florida is particularly resentful of Washington, as you doubtless know. I heard gruesome details...)

Retrospectively, cultural historians have read a lot of significance into how the project functioned, seeing in the resolution of these battles the working out of a politics of representation. What was at stake was the construction of Florida identity, and whose version of that identity the guidebooks would portray. Stetson Kennedy, the white editor of folklore, oral history, and ethnic studies on the Florida FWP project, had this to say about writing style and its representative perils:

There we were, doing our very best to see to it that everything that went into the Guide was couched not only in staid Federalese but also in the specific guidebook jargon set forth in the FWP Style Manual; and there was Zora, turning in these veritable prose poems of African eloquence and imagery! What to do? Inevitably, the inferior triumphed over the superior, and not much of Zora, beyond her inimitable folksongs and tales, got into the Guide. We rationalized this tragedy by reminding ourselves that, after all, the Guides were meant to be exemplars of the merits of collective authorship. Of course, over in Louisiana, author/director Lyle Saxon was putting his indelible personal imprint upon the Louisiana Guide, but then Zora was neither director nor white. (McDonogh xix)

Kennedy had come to work for the FWP in 1937, when he was just over 20 years old. As Zora Neale Hurston's editor, he was more than 25 years her junior. In this passage from an article he wrote in 1991 about working with Hurston, he reflects on a couple of important problematics that must have been cemented in his mind by that experience: the connection between language and representative power, the place that individual voices have in the larger processes of social and institutional commemoration, and the ways in which works of public history can reproduce social inequalities.

In contrast to the way the Farm Security Administration's photography project was organized, the Federal Writers' Project had state offices staffed by local employees who, for the most part, could demonstrate they had been residents for at least two years. This was supposed to ensure that they were researching and writing about areas that they were intimately familiar with, and, by extension, that they had a stake in what vision of these areas emerged from the guidebook (Katherine Davidson 1, 3). Christine Bold argues that these employees were then "all potentially, at one and the same time, subjects, co-authors (to some degree), and readers of the guidebooks" (21).

To get a better sense of the actual process of putting the guide together, you should check out some examples of editorial and administrative correspondence. I've chosen moments of institutional conflict (sometimes outward, somtimes as subtext) that I think are instructive about the larger issues Stetson Kennedy touched on the above passage, (and brief).




Juliet Gorman, May 2001


When you are done looking at the correspondence from the FWP, you might want to explore some of the disjunctions between the interests of potential readers of the guide (figured as outsiders or tourists) and subjects (insiders). In other words, what happens when, as Christine Bold points out, audience, author and subject collide in a tour guide?

If you've already read up on the tour guide genre, you might want to check out what the local color voice is about...

If you are done reading through the material on the history and methodologies of the FWP, you are ready to finish by looking more closely at how all this theory actually plays out, in the writing of the "Contemporary Scene," the introductory essay to the Florida guide.