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This chapter surveys Ellison’s early (pre-Invisible Man) writings, which fall into four categories: sketches for the Federal Writers Project; journalistic reviews and chapters, in venues ranging from the New Masses to Negro Quarterly; short fiction, mostly unpublished in Ellison’s lifetime; and short fiction and novelistic fragments that remain unpublished to this day.
This chapter considers how a range of U.S. southern writers with varying political views responded to the Depression and New Deal. It stresses that even when competing visions of and for the South were articulated by different “fronts” in the period’s “cultural wars,” such visions were not always reducible to left versus right, communism versus capitalism, or “Agrarian versus Industrial.” William Faulkner’s short fiction between 1941 and 1943 reveals complex, contradictory attitudes toward the New Deal, especially the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The writing of Zora Neale Hurston, including texts produced for the WPA’s Federal Writers Project, includes a critique of Jim Crow labor exploitation comparable to the work of her supposed antagonist (and fellow FWP author) Richard Wright. Arna Bontemps’s historical novels, especially Black Thunder (1936), approach Depression-era social upheaval allegorically by depicting earlier black laborers revolting against slavery in the U.S. South and the Caribbean.
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