Rudolph E. Umland and the Federal Writers’ Project

The Federal Writers’ Project helped many writers get through the hard times of Great Depression. Rudolph Umland was one of many that helped the FWP publish thirty Nebraska-related books and pamphlets.

Rudolph E. Umland, remembered for his connection with the Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) in Nebraska, published more than seventy-five short stories and articles and 150 book reviews during his writing career. Born in 1907 on a farm near Eagle, Cass County, he grew up during a period when work and dreams were scarce for American youth. He left the University of Nebraska in 1928 and spent the next four years roaming the country, working at any job he could find and writing when he could. He returned to his family’s farm in 1932 and tried to write a novel about his hobo experiences.

Umland’s first published contribution, a book review, appeared in the third edition of the NU literary magazine, Prairie Schooner, in 1927 and his first published short story in 1932. In 1936 he joined the WPA’s Federal Writers Project, serving first as an editor and later as assistant state and state supervisor.

The FWP had been initiated in 1935 under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration to provide a modest income for unemployed writers and other white-collar professionals. In Nebraska, it produced about thirty books and pamphlets, including Nebraska: A Guide to the Cornhusker State, published in 1939 as part of the WPA American Guide Series.

When World War II began, Umland went to work for the U.S. Postal Censorship Station in New Orleans and later worked for the Veterans Administration in Lincoln and for the Social Security Administration in Kansas City, where he also reviewed books for the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Times. He died in Lincoln in 1993.

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