The Federal Theatre Project’s Living Newspapers in New York
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
In 1935, a group of journalists and theater artists embarked on an unusual collaboration. With funds from the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), a Depression-era employment initiative established by President Roosevelt's New Deal, they set out to produce news for the theatrical stage. Over the next four years, the New York–based team created six productions, known as the Living Newspapers. Covering a variety of public issues that included affordable housing, the plight of Dust Bowl farmers, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and labor law, Living Newspaper productions would reach hundreds of thousands of spectators and inspire adaptations across the country.
Staged News interprets the Living Newspaper's process and repertoire amid journalists' changing conceptions of their profession. Jordana Cox spotlights marginalized “newsmakers," particularly Black artists, who challenged the parameters of public knowledge and assumptions surrounding newsworthiness. This timely analysis uncovers how a vital theatrical form sprouted from a changing news landscape and reimagined what journalism could do for people seeking democratic change.
“Cox brilliantly chronicles the embrace of imagination by newspaper reporters and theatre makers. This engaging, beautifully written book reveals how their staging of the news inspired democratic participation while questioning the idea of journalistic objectivity.”—Harvey Young, author of Theatre and Race
“Jordana Cox deftly traces the twinned histories of US theater and journalism in the 1930s, drawing on extensive archival material to detail how innovations in journalistic practice and imagination shaped many of the Federal Theatre Project’s most significant Living Newspaper productions. This is a timely and insightful book.”—Marlis Schweitzer, author of Bloody Tyrants and Little Pickles: Stage Roles of Anglo-American Girls in the Nineteenth Century
“Journalism historians have paid little attention to the subject of Living Newspapers. In this carefully researched history, Cox uncovers how this New Deal program illuminated the limitations of journalism while offering an alternative and collaborative model for truth-telling—a model with lasting value.”—Carolyn Kitch, author of Pages from the Past: History and Memory in American Magazines
“Cox’s writing style is smooth and fluid, and she has mined archives that others have missed. A book on Living Newspapers that focuses on their journalistic status is way overdue.”—Laura Browder, author of Rousing the Nation: Radical Culture in Depression America