Every book requires research. Authors generally learn way more during their research than they ever share in their novels. During the discovery phase, sometimes there are interesting finds that just have to make it into the author's work-in-progress. Lisa Wingate is here to share one such tidbit that she uncovered while researching her latest book, The Sea Keeper's Daughters.
New Novel Unearths America's Hidden Treasure
by Lisa Wingate
Caught in the age of worldwide connectivity, many of us don’t realize that only scant decades ago, our parents and grandparents experienced a very different America. Its faces and stories might have quietly faded into history, but for a little-known program that charged average Americans with recording the stories of their communities.
“Those involved in the Federal Writers’ Project of the 1930s faced incredible and unprecedented challenges. They were given a task that had never before been attempted and they were asked to do it during one of the most difficult times in America’s history,” remarks Lisa Wingate, whose new novel, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, uncovers this long-forgotten segment of American history, just in time for The Project’s eightieth anniversary.
While Wingate’s tale is fictional, the experiences of her characters mirror those of the hundreds of men and women who were hired as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s then-controversial Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Federal Writers’ Project engaged poverty-stricken individuals to document the unseen corners of a struggling but resilient America. In the novel, a modern woman discovers the long-hidden letters of an aunt disowned by her wealthy family after signing on with the WPA as a Federal Writer. Through Alice Lorring’s letters, Wingate describes the experiences of a woman traveling into the unknown, all for the sake of a story:
Today, during a most thorough introduction at the state FWP headquarters in Asheville, we new recruits were made privy to the inner workings of this monumental endeavor. Rooms there had been filled with the desks of typists and editors. Filing cabinets lined wall, upon wall, and down the corridors lay further FWP areas. My mind could scarce take in the magnitude of it all! To imagine that the whole of this space and the people at work in it are devoted to the documentation of our state and its stories, and that similar efforts have been simultaneously undertaken in all fifty states!
In the room was such overwhelming excitement as plans were detailed! I’d daresay most of us there forgot we had been forced to sign the dreaded WPA Pauper’s Oath in order to qualify for The Project at all. Our mission seemed quite vast and important. We are to create not only a brief guidebook of our state, but a comprehensive encyclopedia to include all natural wonders, the narratives of farmers and former slaves, the stories of soldiers returned from The Great War, the last of those who fought in the War Between the States, the folk tales of mountain peoples, transcriptions of famous trials and court proceedings, and all else, our leaders said, “From Golf to the Ku Klux Klan.” Having the soul of true newspapermen, they desire that no stone be left unturned…
“I think the modern generation doesn’t realize how bleak times were during The Great Depression. When you read the stories and view the photographs, you’re literally confronted with the realities of children dying of malnutrition, not just by the handful, but by the hundreds. Parents would bring sick children to doctors, and the doctors often wrote prescriptions for nourishing food, to be filled at local pharmacies.” Many of the true to life stories of those times wouldn’t exist without the work of the Federal Writers’ Project. The Field Interviewers discovered the life’s blood of America literally from sea to shining sea.
Despite its sweeping congressional mandate to “Hold up a mirror to America,” the FWP was controversial, even for those involved in its inner circles. Well-known African American writer, Zora Neale Hurston, often told friends she was traveling to New York to meet with her publisher, when she was actually canvassing the Florida swamps, recording the stories of workers on sugar cane plantations and in turpentine camps. “To be eligible for The Writers’ Project, you had to take a pauper’s oath, stating that you had no money, no job, no property, and no hope of getting those things anytime soon,” explains Wingate. “For people like Alice in my novel, who had been well-off before the Depression, that was difficult.” Eventually the rolls of the Federal Writers’ Project would include college professors, white-collar workers, housewives, and former college students.
In The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, a present-day woman relives her aunt’s long-ago experiences in the remote and often dangerous corners of Appalachia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. “What Alice finds in the Blue Ridge is what so many FWP writers unearthed,” said Wingate. “They were documenting the lives of people who hadn’t been considered worthy of the history books – workers in fish canneries, ex-slaves in the South, coal miners in the mountains, women in sewing factories, Native Americans on northern reservations, jazz musicians in Memphis. The writers often found themselves on the wrong sides of local powerbrokers and groups like the Ku Klux Klan. For years, much of their work lay hidden in filing vaults. Now, thanks to the Internet, the Library of Congress has made hundreds of their manuscripts available. These stories show us where we come from as a country and as a people. They are our everyday history. They’re who we are.”
Through Wingate’s novel, that history comes to life again, and perhaps as the Federal Writers Project reaches its eightieth anniversary, the difficult and sometimes dangerous work of the Federal Writers will finally receive long-overdue but well-deserved recognition.
Lisa Wingate is a magazine columnist, speaker, and the author of 25 mainstream fiction novels, including the national bestseller Tending Roses, now in its 19th printing from Penguin Putnam.
For more about Lisa Wingate
Blogging at http://www.SouthernBelleViewDaily.com
Write your story, read other stories http://theuntoldstory.guru
That hidden gem about the Federal Writers' Project sounds so fascinating. Thank you for sharing some of your research with us, Lisa! Now I'm even more anxious to read The Sea Keeper's Daughters than I was after I finished reading The Story Keeper.
Readers, be sure to scroll down for more about The Sea Keeper's Daughters and Lisa Wingate's fall 2015 book tour. Is she making a stop near you? I know she'd love to see you there!
Also, be sure to answer today's conversation starter:
Readers, what is something you've learned about history from a fictional book? Did that tidbit inspire you to do more research on your own (after finishing the book, of course)?
LISA WINGATE’S THE SEA KEEPER’S DAUGHTERS
RELEASES SEPTEMBER 1, 2015
About the book
From modern-day Roanoke Island to the sweeping backdrop of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Roosevelt’s WPA folklore writers of the Federal Writers’ Project, past and present intertwine to create an unexpected destiny…
The Sea Keeper’s Daughters Book Launch Tour, Fall 2015
Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida
Come join us for The Sea Keeper’s Daughters book tour! I’d love to see you somewhere along the way. Tour Stops are below. Inviting you to come to one of these events.
If you have any questions about the appearances, please contact Lisa Wingate at firstname.lastname@example.org
September 5, 10 – 10:45, Author Panel with Karen White (topic TBA). Decatur Book Festival 101 East Court Square, Decatur, GA 30030. Public welcome. FMI: https://www.decaturbookfestival.com/2014/index.php Decatur, GA
September 7, 9 – 12, Coffee with Conversation and Signing, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, Sundog Books, 89 Central Square, Seaside, FL 32459, FMI contact Laney, email@example.com 850-231-5481, Seaside, FL
September 8, 12:00, “Preservation of Story”, Rotary Club Meeting at St. Andrews Bay Yacht Club, 218 Bunkers Cove RD, Panama City, FL 32401. FMI contact Val Schoegler firstname.lastname@example.org 850.325.0050. Panama City, FL
September 8, 5 – 7, “Preservation of Story” at St. Andrews Coffee House 1006 Beck Avenue, Refreshments. Panama City Florida 32401. FMI, James Pigneri email@example.com James Pigneri 850-769-3767. Panama City, FL
September 9, 11:30, Lunch and Learn with author Lisa Wingate. Location: The Cellar Restaurant, 1481 Westgate Parkway #1, Dothan, AL. Sponsored by Friends of the Library of Dothan Houston County Library System, 445 North Oates Street, Dothan, AL 36303, Participants pay for their lunch. Signing for The Sea Keeper’s Daughters to follow lunch. FMI, Lexie Aldridge, 334-793-9767 ext. 4215, firstname.lastname@example.org. Booktable by Elise of Books Unlimited, Youngstown, FL. Elisa, 850.867.7687, email@example.com Dothan, AL
September 9, 3:00, Preservation of Story speech. Blountstown Library, 17731 N. Pear Street, Blounstown, FL 32424. FMI Rita Maupinr 850.674.1903 firstname.lastname@example.org. Blountstown, FL
September 9, evening, “Preservation of Story & Faith Story” at Wednesday night prayer meeting. First Baptist Church, 17731 N. Pear Street, Blountstown, FL 32424. FMI, Tim Rhoades 850.674.5923, email@example.com Blountstown, FL
September 10, 11:30, Speaking on “Preservation of Story” at Private Event Luncheon & Booksigning. St. Andrews Bay Yacht Club, 218 Bunkers Cove RD, Panama City, FL 32401. Contact Lana Jane, 850-866-9738. Book Table by Elise, Books Unlimited 6503 Grassy Point Rd, Panama City, FL 32408, contact Booksunlimited13@aol.com, 850-866-9738. Panama City, FL
September 10, 6 – 8 PM, “Writing Your Story with Highlights about The Federal Writer’s Project”. Booktable & Booksigning. Eufaula Carnegie Library, 217 N. Eufaula Ave., Eufaula, AL 36027, FMI contact Ronnie Smith, library director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 224-687-8190. Eufaula, AL
September 11, 6:30 – 8 PM: “Preservation of Story,” Booktalk and signing. by Lisa Wingate. release, Refreshments. Bookmiser, 4651 Sandy Plains Rd., Suite 106, Roswell, GA, 30075. FMI 770-993-1555, email@example.com,. Roswell, GA
September 12, 1 PM, Author Panel with Ann Hite and Lisa Wingate. Signings for new releases. Refreshments. Fox Tale Book Shoppe, 105 E Main St, Woodstock, GA 30188. Contact Ellen Ward, 404-293-2295, firstname.lastname@example.org. Woodstock, GA
September 14, 6 PM, Speech and signing. “Preservation of Story and Introduction to The Sea Keeper’s Daughters.”. Refreshments & Signing for The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, Middle Georgia Regional Library, 1180 Washington Avenue, Macon, GA, 31201. Light refreshments, public welcome. FMI contact Jennifer Lautzenheiser, email@example.com, 478-744-0850. Booktable by Christine Curry, A Novel Experience, 426 Thomaston St., Zebulon, GA 30295, firstname.lastname@example.org 770-567-1103. Macon, GA
September 15, 11:30 – 1, .J. Joe Edwards Public Library Fundraising Luncheon. Keynote, “Preserving Your Family Story” by Lisa Wingate. Booksigning for The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. Limited seating is available for this no-cost luncheon. Location is First Methodist Church.To reserve a ticket contact Rosemary Bunn, email@example.com, 770-567-2014. A percentage of book sales donated to the library. Booktable by Christine Curry, A Novel Experience, 426 Thomaston St., Zebulon, GA 30295, firstname.lastname@example.org 770-567-1103. Zebulon, GA
September 15, 1:30. Meet & Greet Signing for Wingate’s new release, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. A Novel Experience, 426 Thomaston St., Zebulon, GA 30295, FMI or to order books contact Chris Curry, email@example.com 770-567-1103, Zebulon, GA
September 15, 6:30 PM, “Preserving your Family Story” and Signing. Sponsored by book clubs “By the Book,” and “Page Turners. ” Desserts served. First Baptist Church, 1105 Main Street, Perry GA 31069. Public welcome. Contact Beckie Burnham, 478-988-3212 or 478-960-1812, firstname.lastname@example.org. Bookseller is Christine Curry, A Novel Experience, 426 Thomaston St., Zebulon, GA 30295, 770-567-1103, Perry, GA.
September 16, 3 PM, Story Tellers Parapalooza Panel and Signing, Lisa Wingate, Kim Wright, Mathew Neill Hull. Fiction Addiction, 1175 Woods Crossing Rd #5, Greenville, SC 29607. Tickets are $10 each. Each ticket can be redeemed toward a purchase of the featured authors’ books prior to or at the event, and includes one admission pass to the event. For tickets and book orders contact Jill Hendricks, 864.675.0540 or email@example.com. Greenville, SC
September 16, 7 PM. “Preservation of Story” Woodlands at Furman: Greenville Retirement Community, 1500 Trailhead Ct. Greenville, SC 29617. Residents and guests. FMI Contact Andrea Payment, firstname.lastname@example.org (864) 371-3100. Greenville, SC
September 17, 11-12:30. “Preservation of Story” Panel with author Kim Boyken. Booksigning to follow. Co-sponsored with members of Women’s National Book Association, Inc. (WNBA), Charlotte Chapter. WNBA contact is Susan Walker, email@example.com, 704-439-4596 Or 612-439-4596. Location: Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road Charlotte, NC 28209, Public invited. FMI and to order books contact Becky Morriston, firstname.lastname@example.org, 704-525-9239. Charlotte, NC
September 17, (Following the Park Roads Bookstore event immediately above). Luncheon at a nearby restaurant with members of Women’s National Book Association, Inc. (WNBA), Charlotte Chapter. FMI contact SusanWalker, 704-439-4596 or 612-439-4596, email@example.com. Charlotte, NC
September 17, 7 PM, Spartanburg County Library’s Fall for Reading Series.“Preservation of Story” by Lisa Wingate. Signing for The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. Spartanburg County Library, 151 S. Church St, Spartanburg SC 29306. FMI contact Rebecca Mack, firstname.lastname@example.org 864-596-1247. Spartanburg SC
September 18 – 20. Parapalooza Event & Signing. Southern Independent Bookseller Alliance SIBA, Schedule TBA. Most events for registered members only. http://www.sibaweb.com/trade-show Raleigh, NC
September 21, 12:00. “Preservation of Story” Luncheon speech and signing for The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. Gaston County Public Library, main library auditorium, 1555 E. Garrison Boulevard, Gastonia, NC. FMI David Currence 704.868.2164 X124, email@example.com. Book Table by Park Roads Book, Charlotte. To order books contact Becky Morriston, firstname.lastname@example.org, 704-525-9239. Gastonia, NC
September 21, 7:00 – 8:30 PM, Precursor to Greenville Heritage Textile Festival Lisa will speak on the Federal Writer’s Project of the 1930’s, life in the mill villages, and writing one’s own family stories. Booksigning for Lisa’s novel, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters will follow. Location: Greenville County Library, 25 Heritage Green Place, Greenville, SC 29601. FMI Mary Frances Shelato email@example.com; 864 527 5293. Booktable by Fiction Addiction. To order books contact Jill Hendrix, 864-675-0540 firstname.lastname@example.org. Greenville, SC
September 22, 7 PM, “Preservation of Story” Speech and Signing for Lisa’s newest Carolina novel, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. Refreshments. Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St., Asheville, NC 28801. FMI Contact Alsace Walentine, 828-254-6724, email@example.com. Asheville, NC
September 23, 6 – 7 PM, Booktalk with highlights about The Lost Colonists, 300 Queen Elizabeth Avenue, Manteo, NC 27954. Sponsored by Dare County Arts Council and the Don & Catherine Bryan Cultural Series. Booksigning to follow the speech. Booktable by Ducks Cottage Downtown Books. Public invited, no reservation required. FMI: Jamie Layton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-473-1056. Manteo, NC
September 24, 4 – 7 PM, Booktalk and Signing of The Sea Keeper’s Daughters.” Light refreshments. Page after Page Bookstore, 111 S Water St, Elizabeth City, NC 27909, FMI Susan, 252.335.7243 email@example.com. Elizabeth City, NC
September 25, 12:00, Moveable Feast Luncheon and Booksigning. “Preservation of Story and Introduction to The Sea Keeper’s Daughter” by Lisa Wingate. Details TBA. Hosted by Litchfield Books, 11421 Ocean Hwy, Pawley’s Island, South Carolina 29585. For tickets go to Litchfield Books website www.litchfieldbooks.com or contact Vicky Warner, firstname.lastname@example.org 843-237-8138. Pawley’s Island, SC
September 26, 12 – 2, “Preservation of Story” speech at Luncheon & Booksigning to follow. Surf City Welcome Center (beachfront), 102 North Shore Drive, Surf City, NC. Ticket $25. Host and Bookseller is FMI and reservations, contact Lori Fisher, Quarter Moon Books,email@example.com 910.328.4969. Topsail Beach, NC708 S. Anderson Blvd., Topsail Beach, NC 28445,
September 28, 3– 5, “Preservation of Story”. Refreshments served. Booksigning. Edisto Bookstore, 547 Hwy 174, Edisto Island, SC 29438. FMI Karen Carter, (843) 869-1885, firstname.lastname@example.orgEdisto Island, SC
October 10, 4 – 6. Meet & Greet Signing on Second Saturday Downtown Clifton evening with stores open until 6. Signing at Bosque County Emporium, 121 N. Avenue D, Clifton, TX 76634. FMI or to order autographed books contact Sharon email@example.com 254.675.8133 Clifton, TX
October 30 – 31. Panel and Signing. Louisiana Book Festival, Baton Rouge LA 70804,
at the State Library of Louisiana, the State Capitol, Capitol Park Museum and nearby locations. Detail of Lisa’s events are pending. FMI www.louisianabookfestival.org Baton Rouge, LA
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