NPJ Book Review: The American Writer and the Great Depression, Ed. Harvey Swados


The American Writer and the Great Depression, edited by Harvey Swados (1966) I was planning to write a review of a book that was optimistic and hopeful but as I assess the economic and political struggles beyond the propaganda of today I had to return to the writers of the Great Depression for perspective.

The depression era writers spoke with uncommon eloquence about the common man and woman getting the short end of the stick while being made empty promises, being duped by deceptive business negotiations and practices, the transfer of wealth among the wealthy, lives living on borrowed time and money and the aching feeling brought about by the blunt instrument of greed that filtered through the corporate world.

There existed the terrorism of poverty – endless bread lines, harrowing faces wondering about the next meal or place to live, poverty wages, the empty hopes and sick bellies, directionless anger, the subsequent revolt, the creation of unions and eventually Social Security and the courage to withstand the humiliation and shame of being impoverished in a country where the rich were getting richer at the expense of the common people who usually lacked the wherewithal to affect the rich man’s province.

In this anthology the editor offers excerpts from the works of Jack Conroy, Sherwood Anderson, Josephine Herbst, John Steinbeck, James Agee, Erskine Caldwell, Theodore Roethke, John Dos Passos, Meridel Lesueur, James T Farrell, Thomas Wolfe and Edmund Wilson among others to provide the tragic, heartbreaking and passionate insights into what Wilson calls “the sea of misery” of the Great Depression and the stories of the common people in haunting, poignant and simple language. This is an excellent resource for understanding the Great Depression in human terms.