Writing about North Dakota: The American Guide Series

I recently learned about the American Guide Series of books, a project of the Federal Writers’ Project during the Great Depression. According to Wikipedia, these books were “printed by individual states, and contained detailed histories of each of the then 48 states of the Union with descriptions of every major city and town. In total, the project employed over 6,000 writers.” Wikipedia also provides a chart of the books for all 50 states, including North Dakota, here.

From the North Dakota State Historical Society website, I learned the following: “Not ten or fifty or a hundred, but actually hundreds of North Dakotans helped in the making of the guide, from the many who contributed information about their own communities or field of work down to the handful of editors and writers who brought that information within the covers of this book.”

Screenshot of Google book

Most of North Dakota: A Guide To The Northern Prairie State has been scanned into Google Books and can be viewed here. Here is one excerpt I particularly love:

“What is the North Dakota they know? A State of unbounded plains and hills and Badlands—elbowroom. Superb sunsets. High winds and tumbleweed. Farms and plows and sweeping fields. Gophers flashing across the road. Little towns crowded on Saturday night, and busy cities shipping out the products of North Dakota and supplying the needs of the producers. Sudden blinding, isolating blizzards, and soft, fragrant spring days with tiny sprouts of grain peering greenly through the topsoil. Pasque flower and cactus, flame lily, and fields of yellow mustard. The sad, slow wail of a coyote on the still prairie. People—Norwegians, Germans, Russians, Poles, Czechs, Icelanders, but all Americans. Square dances in barn lofts, and college ‘proms’ with corsages and grand marches. Teachers building fires with numbed hands in stoves of icy one-room schools. Men in unaccustomed ‘best clothes’ sitting in majestic legislative halls of a skyscraper statehouse. Political fires, sometimes smouldering, sometimes flaring, always burning.”


About Gwen

Gwen is a Moorhead-based editor, writer, and musician. She owns Content & Contour, LLC (www.contentandcontour.com) and teaches french horn at North Dakota State University. She loves weightlifting, reading novels, spending time with her family and friends, and being a board member of the Moorhead Business Association. View all posts by Gwen

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