Woody Guthrie Home

About the Collection

Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950 is a selection from the Woody Guthrie Manuscript Collection in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The manuscript collection contains four-and-a-half linear inches of correspondence (mostly to Alan Lomax), essays, sketches, and songs written by Woody Guthrie, most from 1935 to 1950 and some undated.

The collection was processed in 1987 by the then archivist of the American Folklife Center, Marsha Maguire, who housed the materials in mylar and acid-free folders within three manuscript boxes. Most of the manuscripts had originally been housed in the Guthrie correspondence file (in the Archive of Folk Culture vertical files), with the exception of one Woody Guthrie songbook donated by Robert A. Black in 1981. Since the initial processing occurred, a second songbook, donated by Guy Logsdon in 1990, has been added to Box 2, and a piece of Guthrie's childhood home in Okemah, Oklahoma, donated by Ellis Paul in 1998, has been added to Box 3 (oversized materials). The finding aid "Woody Guthrie Archival Materials in the Library of Congress" provides further information about the manuscript collection.

In addition, vertical files containing the Library of Congress's correspondence and memos to and regarding Guthrie have been examined and twenty-one pieces contemporaneous with the Woody Guthrie Manuscript Collection selected for inclusion in the Web presentation. Both sides of the correspondence are thus digitally reunited and have been made accessible in chronological order.

The online collection excludes all song lyrics, 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 More than three hundred pages of song lyrics comprise some seven self-published or unpublished songbooks in the original collection.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 (fifty-three items totaling eighty-four pages, ca. 1940-50) for public dissemination. See Copyright and Other Restrictions for further information about the restrictions on this material.

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.

Woody Guthrie Home