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[Detail] Woody Guthrie

Historical Research Capabilities

A biographical research project that uses the collection's letters can enhance an understanding of both Guthrie's life and his letters. Biographies on Guthrie, such as This Land Was Made for You and Me by Elizabeth Partridge and Woody Guthrie: A Life by Joe Klein provide overviews of Guthrie's life, but the letters contain details such as addresses, dates, and references to people, places, and events that can be used to flesh out a more detailed account of Guthrie's life during the 40s and 50s.

Use these details to formulate research questions. For example, the address at the top of Guthrie's letter to Lomax written in August, 1940, could suggest the following questions:

  • When did Guthrie move to this "new address" and why? What was his previous address?
  • Who is Will Geer? Why was Guthrie receiving mail in care of Geer? Was he living with him? If so, how long did he live with him?
  • What were the Tobacco Road Stage and Forrest Theater? What, if anything, did Guthrie have to do with them?

Guthrie's postcard of September 8, 1941 could suggest these questions:

  • What was Guthrie doing in Portland?
  • Who was he with?
  • How long was he there?

Use the biographies and letters to create and answer such questions and create a detailed account of some period of Guthrie's life in the 40s and 50s.

  • What does placing these letters within a biographical context add to your appreciation of them? Provide an example of how you understood a particular letter better because of having biographical information.
  • What does being able to read his letters add to your appreciation of Guthrie and your understanding of his life?