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Posted: Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013

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John Syme

John Syme graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts degree in French in 1985. He worked as a general-assignment reporter at The Winston-Salem Journal, where he later wrote freelance travel stories during his first solo cross-country road trip in the summer of 1989. He worked as a copywriter at a Charlotte advertising agency, as a research translator at a French nutrition center outside Paris, and as a politics and education newspaper reporter in Charlotte. He returned in 2001 to Davidson, where he is senior writer, alumni editor and instigator of the "Road Trip 2009" blog, which evolved into his current blog, "Daybook Davidson."

The word “soul” feels rare these days. But it is perhaps that very rarity, that unique and essential nature of the word’s form and content, that makes it the single perfect word to call a reader’s attention into Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America by David A. Taylor, Davidson College Class of 1983.

Reminder: Taylor will join us on the Davidson College Online Book Club for discussion this week, Wednesday through Saturday, April 17–20, 2013. Come join him with questions and comments about the book or the documentary or about his work in general as seen in the links on the Book Club page.

Soul of a People sprang from Taylor’s Smithsonian magazine article that also was turned into a Smithsonian Channel documentary of the same title. It is the accounts of a handful of characters who were on the Federal Writer’s Project in the 1930s, individuals who went from poverty to great things later: John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Studs Terkel.

Through striking images and firsthand accounts, the project reveals their experiences and the most vivid excerpts from selected guides and interviews: Harlem schoolchildren, truckers, Chicago fishmongers, Cuban cigar makers, a Florida midwife, Nebraskan meatpackers, and blind musicians.

In video interviews on the Book Club page, Taylor talks about his service in the Peace Corps in Africa after graduating from Davidson, and his global travels since then to write about the revealing connections between people and their worlds. His articles have appeared in Smithsonian, The Washington Post, The Village Voice, Outside, The Christian Science Monitor, and Oxford American, and he is author of four other books: Tall Ship Odysseys; Ginseng: The Divine Root; Success: Stories; and The War of 1812 and the Rise of the U.S. Navy.

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