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[Detail] Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950 is comprised mostly of letters by Guthrie who, in addition to songs also wrote newspaper columns, an autobiographical novel, a memoir, and countless pages of unpublished writing. Guthrie's writings and insights into writing available in this collection provide the opportunity to learn about songwriting, humor, simile and metaphor, storytelling, and the documentary form.


One of the highlights of the collection is a letter in which Guthrie writes extensively about the art of songwriting. Search on songwriting for this letter, read it, and identify Guthrie's main points about how to write a good song.

  • How important is the meaning of a song to Guthrie?
  • How important are the feelings that a song provokes?
  • How does Guthrie think that a songwriter can best covey meaning and provoke certain feelings?
  • According to Guthrie, what role does the audience play in making a song effective?
  • What should the songwriter do to help the audience play this role?
  • What was Guthrie's secret to being able to write so many songs?

Listen to some of Guthrie's songs, select one, and write a brief explanation of how the song does or does not reflect his ideas about songwriting expressed in his letter. Choose one of your favorite songs by another artist and consider to what extent it conforms with Guthrie's ideas about good songwriting. What other ideas about songwriting might this song reflect? Use Guthrie's advice to write your own song.