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jen found this article, Unmasking the Writers of the W.P.A.
about the WPA Federal Writers Project, which kept authors writing and on government payroll during the 30s and into the 40s. The body of work done by the project is remarkable and includes many well-know authors including John Cheever, Zora Neale Hurston and Studs Turkel. The Library of Congress has made much of the original material available on their American Memory website. Registration required at the NYT site.