In the late 1930s, the Federal Writers' Project set out to create a first-person portrait of America by sending young writers around the country to interview people from diverse ethnic groups, occupations, and backgrounds. When the Writers Project closed its doors, some 10,000 of these oral histories were left gathering dust in a remote storeroom at the Library of Congress. In First Person America, Ann Banks has collected dozens of these oral histories, including a North Carolina patent-medicine pitchman, a retired Oregon prospector, a Bahamian midwife from Florida, a Key West smuggler, a Pullman Porter, and Chicago jazz musicians. There are men and women who remember meeting Billy the Kid, survived the Chicago Fire, and fled the Czar to America. They hawked lucky charms and patent medicine. They knew Bix Beiderbecke personally and tried to copy his style in Chicago jazz clubs. They peddled cake flavoring, auctioned tobacco, and fished and smuggled rum, and sometimes aliens, from Cuba to Key West. They worked in coal and granite and cotton and iron. The women quilted and pressed laundry and took in boarders and delivered babies. And when their men ran out on them they swallowed their pride and threw rent parties. Lloyd Green, a Pullman Porter in Harlem, lamented his move north to the big city, telling Federal Writer Ralph Ellison, "I'm in New York, but New York ain't in me." First Person America is narrated by Tony Kahn, a public radio veteran writer, host, and producer.
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