The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is kicking off 2022 with the much-awaited third season of “America Works,” a podcast series celebrating the diversity, resilience and creativity of American workers in the face of economic uncertainty. The new season, launched today, features riveting stories from a teacher and workers at a circus, a meat plant, a vineyard, and a now-closed Boeing factory, among others. The first episode is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and at loc.gov/podcasts. Subsequent episodes will be released each Thursday through March 10, 2022.
You can read more about the series below, or find more resources alongside the Library’s press release at this link. But, if you just want to jump to the podcast itself, they’ll be at the link below, with the most recent episode on top:
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The eight-episode series, part of the American Folklife Center’s ongoing “Occupational Folklife Project,” aims to introduce listeners to a diverse range of voices and perspectives within the changing American workforce. Each 10-minute episode includes workers whose narratives add to the wealth of our shared national experience.
“The eloquence, optimism, and insights of American workers never fail to impress me. Especially during these trying times, I feel honored to help ensure that their stories become part of our national record by being documented and archived here at the Library of Congress,” said Nancy Groce, host of “America Works” and senior folklife specialist at the American Folklife Center. “This podcast series features highlights of these interviews and reassures me that America still works.”
While economic experts predict a full global recovery, employers and workers have faced a tumultuous few years and rising inflation is fueling additional anxiety in many American homes.
Given these challenges, the stories told in “America Works” are a timely reminder of the spirit and grit of the American workforce and they will be added to the historical record of the nation’s library.
The third season of “America Works” includes:
Episode 1— Mario Cervantes, a Hispanic former skilled factory worker for Boeing aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, discusses his family’s long ties to the company and his disappointment that the aviation giant, a community mainstay for over eight decades, shut down its operations there.
Episode 2— Roberta Washington, an African American architect based in New York City, discusses her work designing various public works projects, including the African Burial Ground Interpretive Center for the National Park Service. She also discusses the challenges of being a Black professional in a field that, especially when she started, was dominated by White men.
Episode 3— Henrietta Ivey, a home health care professional in Detroit, Michigan, talks about her pride in helping clients stay in their homes safely and with comfort and dignity. She says home healthcare professionals often encounter hurtful comments, lack of respect and challenging work environments.
Episode 4— Delores Fortuna, a professional potter and owner of Fortuna Pottery in Galena, Illinois, explains how she discovered her love for pottery as a college student and later helped establish annual “pottery tours” to introduce the public to local artisans.
Episode 5— Kira Fobbs, an elementary school teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, since 1996, discusses how her multiethnic heritage helped shape her career teaching 3rd and 4th graders and special education students. She explains that she had pursued a law degree to “help change the world” but instead became a teacher to change the culture “by changing the kids.”
Episode 6— Thomas Sink, a retired circus performer better known as “Popcorn the Circus Comic” in Mead, Oklahoma, spent more than three decades entertaining audiences throughout the Midwest. Despite the high turnover and other challenges that come with the job, Popcorn points out he remained a clown because “it’s a neat life… and I loved the audiences.”
Episode 7— William (Bill) Hatch, a winery worker and owner of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard in Leesburg, Virginia, transformed his multi-generational family dairy and cattle farm into a successful winery. He explains that he started with just over a thousand vines and has transitioned to “more fun” as one of more than 280 wine growers in Virginia. Clients never complimented his milk, but they love his wine, he says.
Episode 8— Komla “Sam” Ewu, a meatpacking plant worker in Beardstown, Illinois, left a prestigious but unprofitable career as an English teacher in his native Togo and migrated to the United States in 2011 after winning a visa lottery. Ewu says he’s grateful because, while he’s “just a meat cutter” performing a grueling job, he is pursuing his American Dream and working hard to bring his family stateside.
Each “America Works” episode is based on a longer interview from the American Folklife Center’s Occupational Folklife Project, a multi-year initiative to document workforce culture. Over the past 12 years, fieldworkers from the American Folklife Center have interviewed more than 1,200 working Americans, documenting their experiences in more than 100 professions. More than 500 of these full-length interviews are now available online.
The first two seasons of “America Works,” launched in August 2020 and April 2021, respectively, are also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and the Library of Congress website. Listen and subscribe at this link.