July 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Woody Guthrie: Novelist

220px-Woody_Guthrie_2.jpgWoody Guthrie was many things: poet, painter, and proletariat.  And in his spare time, he even wrote a song or two.  But the New York Times revealed this week (the week of Guthrie's 100th birthday) that Guthrie was also, unbeknowst to virtually everyone, a novelist.  He wrote one novel, "House of Earth," which languished in a Coney Island closet for many decades.  It will be published next year by a "major New York publisher."

Oh, and Johnny Depp is editing it.

depp.jpgYep - that Johnny Depp. (With help from author Douglas Brinkley).

The "House of Earth" of the title refers to adobes, the southwestern style of mud-brick house construction utilized by Native Americans for millenia.  Guthrie felt passionately that the sharecrop farmers of Texas, who lived in fragile wooden shacks, should build these "houses of earth" for protection from the elements.  (The elements at the time, it should be noted, included the Dust Bowl). So Guthrie followed Steinbeck's lead and presented his ideas in novel format.

adobe.jpg "House of Earth," finished by Guthrie in 1947, is the story of two Texan farmers who struggle against a variety of capitalist forces in their quest to build an adobe house.  Yeah, the pitch for that isn't great, which is possibly why the novel went unpublished for so many years.  But it also includes a graphic sex scene on a hay bale, which was "ahead of its time."

Guthrie showed the first chapter to the musicologist Alan Lomax, who said it was "quite simply the best material I'd ever seen written about that section of the country." Depp and Brinkley have also shown the novel to Guthrie's most famous protege, Bob Dylan, who said "surprised by the genius." 

Next year, we'll all have a chance to judge it for ourselves.

Or if you're particularly antsy, you can pay a visit to Oklahoma where the typescript of the novel is held in the special collections library at the University of Tulsa.