Maureen Corrigan

The year was 1983. Alice Walker's The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award; Gloria Naylor's debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, won the National Book Award for first fiction.

At the end of his new novel, Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford describes how he was inspired by a London plaque:

[F]or the last twelve years, I've been walking to work at Goldsmiths College past a plaque commemorating the 1944 V-2 attack on the New Cross Road branch of Woolworths. Of the 168 people who died, fifteen were aged eleven or under. The novel is partly written in memory of those South London children, and their lost chance to experience the rest of the twentieth century.

It sounds like the premise for one of those classic screwball comedies of the 1930s: Thousands of out-of-work writers are hired by the United States government to collaborate on books. What could possibly go wrong?

But as Scott Borchert reveals in his new book, Republic of Detours, the amazing thing about the Federal Writers' Project was just how much went right.

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