The Furious Improvisation
How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times
By Susan Quinn
(Walker & Company, Hardcover, 9780802716989, 336pp.)
Publication Date: July 8, 2008
List Price: $25.99*
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A vivid portrait of the turbulent 1930s and the Roosevelt administration as seen through the WPA’s Federal Theater Project.Under the direction of a five-foot redheaded firecracker, Hallie Flanagan, the Federal Theater Project managed to turn a WPA relief program into a platform for some of the most inventive and cutting-edge theater of its time. This daring experiment by the U.S. government in support of the arts electrified audiences with exciting, controversial productions. Plays like Voodoo Macbeth and The Cradle Will Rock stirred up politicians by defying segregation and putting the spotlight on social injustice, and the FT P starred some of the greatest figures in twentieth-century American arts—including Orson Welles, John Houseman, and Sinclair Lewis. Susan Quinn brings to life the politics of this desperate era when FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the chain-smoking idealist Harry Hopkins furiously improvised programs to get millions of hungry, unemployed people back to work. Quinn’s compelling story of politics and idealism reaches a dramatic climax with the rise of Martin Dies and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which turned the FTP into the first victim of a Red scare that would roil the nation for the next twenty years.
Susan Quinn is the author of two award-winning biographies, about Marie Curie and Karen Horney, as well as Human Trials, which recounts the emotion-laden process of developing a drug for a difficult disease. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.