Wyoming: A Guide to Its History, Highways, and People. New York: Oxford UP, 1941.
 



 

Chapter Two: 

Designing a Landscape of Words: Genre Negotiations, Composition Policies, and Stylistic Features of the Guides
 

 






Wordage, Poundage, Yardage: Inventing and Operating the American Baedeker Machine


Designing a Landscape of Words: Genre Negotiations, Composition Policies, and Stylistic Features of the Guides


Patchwork Quilt of These United States: The Rhetoric of Cultural Enthusiasm in Contemporary Reviews of the American Guides


Un-American Guides and Pink Baedekers: The Red Scare of the Federal Writers' Project


A Fabricated Nation: The Politics of Democratic National Portraiture


Vintage Snapshots from Alabama to Wyoming: Reflections of a Cultural Nation in State Profiles



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

      

In chapter two, "Designing a Landscape of Words: Genre Negotiations, Composition Policies, and Stylistic Features of the Guides," I study the formal features of the American Guides and attempt to come to terms with their essential hybridity as literary texts. The FWP never articulated a clear poetology or a mission statement, and the absence of such a framework led to a considerable range of local interpretations of the American Guides' aims and methods. The prefaces of the American Guides, written by the respective FWP state director in charge of supervising a team of writers in the state, testify to a confusion of genre and the desire to invent tropes-such as the mosaic, the panorama, or the inventory-that would elucidate the writing endeavor. Often these prefaces are retrospective attempts to invest a text with symbolic meaning that was absent during its making. I argue that the hybridity of the American Guides is the result of conflicting notions about the texts' goals, which ranged from a type of regional fiction to a geographical encyclopedia and a road book.

Using the FWP's American Guide Manual, an instructional book that spelled out composition policies to state offices and their teams of field workers, and editorial memoranda from the Michigan Writers' Project, I try to reconstruct the process of writing the American Guides. Federal writers were encouraged to maintain a crisp descriptive style that would be significantly different from the predominant sentimental rhetoric of travel advertisement and local color writing. Looking at the actual texts, I offer a stylistic vocabulary to assess the essential characteristics of the WPA writing mode. These features include a mentality-defining essay that often uses a dichotomizing strategy in its attempt to delineate a state's profile. The American Guides are most distinctive in their tours section, which employs three predominant forms of description: the people portrait, the catalogue of objects, and the industrial panorama.

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