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This is not a good time in America to be a writer. The printing and traditional publishing sector has shed over 134,000 jobs during the Great Recession. Between 1998 and 2013, the book publishing industry lost 21,000 jobs, periodical publishing cut 56,000 jobs and the newspaper industry shed 217,000 jobs. Digital technology has replaced the vital connection between sellers and buyers that once made news magazines and newspaper profitable. Writers struggle to make a living as freelancers, part-time employees, contractors, or in temporary fellowships. They often lack job stability and health and retirement benefits. The economic distress for writers, including novelists and poets, increasingly replicates the distress writers endured during the Great Depression, many of whom were only able to eat and pay the rent because of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project, created in 1935 to give work to unemployed writers, editors, and research workers. The Federal Writer’s Project employed 6,600 men and women and rescued the careers of some of the country’s most gifted writers including Richard Wright, Claude McKay, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Conrad Aiken and James Agee. But there is no such support today. An entire generation of writers is being sacrificed under the hammer blows of a digital revolution and the collapse of print.
Jason Bogg is the author of The Deep End: The Literary Scene in the Great Depression and Today.
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