Collection Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950

About this Collection

Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950 highlights letters between Woody Guthrie and staff of the Archive of American Folk Song (now the American Folklife Center archive) at the Library of Congress. The letters were written primarily in the early 1940s, shortly after Guthrie had moved to New York City and met the Archive's assistant in charge, Alan Lomax. In New York, Guthrie pursued broadcasting and recording careers, meeting a cadre of artists and social activists and gaining a reputation as a talented and influential songwriter and performer. His written and, occasionally, illustrated reflections on his past, his art, his life in New York City, and the looming Second World War provide unique insight into the artist best-known for his role as "Dust Bowl balladeer."

The body of materials presented online highlights Woody Guthrie as an often humorous, often serious writer of prose. The World War II-era exchange between U. S. Government employees in Washington, D.C., and the Oklahoma-born, Texas-bred recent transplant to New York contrasts with Woody's usual image as Oklahoma Dust Bowl refugee. It documents Guthrie at the beginning of his commercial recording career, at work on his autobiographical novel, and gaining renown in New York intellectual and artistic circles. It likewise shows that Alan Lomax and his successors at the Archive of American Folk Song, Library of Congress, were charmed and impressed by Guthrie's cleverness, talent, wry humor, and political acumen.

This online presentation contains 53 items (84 pages) of manuscript material by, about, and to Woody Guthrie, from 1940 to 1950. It is selected from material in the Woody Guthrie Manuscript Collection and the American Folklife Center's correspondence files. All song lyrics in have been excluded from the online presentation at the request of the Guthrie family, who hold copyright to Guthrie's artistic output. More than three hundred pages of song lyrics comprise some seven self-published or unpublished songbooks in the original collection. These materials are available to researchers at the American Folklife Center, but will not be available online. The Guthrie family has approved all other items (53 items totaling 84 pages, ca. 1940-50) for public dissemination. See Copyright and Other Restrictions for further information about the restrictions on this material.