On Dec. 1, the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center For American Music hosted a conversation and book signing with Nora Guthrie and Robert Santelli on their book, Woody Guthrie: Songs and Art, Words and Wisdom at the Great Hall Auditorium. The book was recently awarded the 2022 Deems Taylor Award/Virgil Thomson Book award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
The conversation was moderated by Monmouth University’s English Professor, Michael Thomas, MFA, who led Guthrie and Santelli in an eccentric talk about the book, Woody’s life, and stories from Nora’s childhood.
The award-winning book is a ‘360-degree-view’ of Woody’s story, pieced together through compiled poems, artwork and lyrics, including some that were never published. It also features essays from Woody’s son and fellow musician Arlo Guthrie, hip hop legend Chuck D, historian Douglas Brinkley, and others. The book’s eight chapters represent different moments and themes of Woody’s life, with titles such as “Self Portrait,” “The Places I’ve Been,” and “One Man Religion.” Most of the materials this book was sourced from came from Woody’s family home, which were preserved by his wife Marjorie.
According to Guthrie, Woody Guthrie: Songs and Art, Words and Wisdom is akin to the bible for this new generation. The authors aimed to create a go-to book for the following generations inspired by Woody; their goal was to express all his thoughts and have the readers come to their own conclusions.
The “This Land is Your Land” singer’s career preached equality and change throughout his musical career.
He sang of “the common people” and gained inspiration from the evolving world around him. During the conversation, Guthrie spoke about her days growing up with her family on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Guthrie said, “It was a place of all shapes, sizes, colors, and languages.” While Woody grew up in Oklahoma, he gathered inspiration from everywhere he traveled.
Not only was the audience able to hear about the background inspiring the book but rare footage of Woody singing as well. They presented a small clip of Woody singing “Greenback Dollar” and “John Henry” from the short film by Pete Seeger, To Hear Your Banjo Play.
Although Woody recorded approximately 150 songs, Woody actually wrote around 3,000 songs, some of which you can read in the book. Santelli explained that Woody was someone who always needed to write.
Guthrie is not only Woody’s daughter, but a recognized author, record producer, curator, and longtime dancer. She has produced multiple Grammy award winning albums while recording her father’s lyrics which were unknown beforehand, founding the Woody Guthrie Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Robert Santelli is the executive director of the Springsteen Archives and has written a dozen books on American Music. He is also a Grammy Award winner and serves as the executive director for the Grammy Museum.
The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music is hosting another event on Jan. 3, 2023, for the 50th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park at the Great Hall Auditorium.
Woody’s life and the way he perceived it through music is something the authors hope is expressed in the book. “We don’t know how wonderful and strong we are until we are given something to fight for.”