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House of Earth


Wow. As of today, Woody Guthrie’s previously unpublished 1947 novel, House of Earth is available for us to purchase.

Finished in 1947 and lost to readers until now, House of Earth is Woody Guthrie’s only fully realized novel—a powerful portrait of Dust Bowl America, filled with the homespun lyricism and authenticity that have made his songs a part of our national consciousness. It is the story of an ordinary couple’s dreams of a better life and their search for love and meaning in a corrupt world.

Tike and Ella May Hamlin struggle to plant roots in the arid land of the Texas Panhandle. The husband and wife live in a precarious wooden farm shack, but Tike yearns for a sturdy house that will protect them from the treacherous elements. Thanks to a five-cent government pamphlet, Tike has the know-how to build a simple adobe dwelling, a structure made from the land itself—fireproof, windproof, Dust Bowl–proof. A house of earth.

Though they are one with the farm and with each other, the land on which Tike and Ella May live and work is not theirs. Due to larger forces beyond their control—including ranching conglomerates and banks—their adobe house remains painfully out of reach.

A story of rural realism and progressive activism, and in many ways a companion piece to Guthrie’s folk anthem “This Land Is Your Land,” House of Earth is a searing portrait of hardship and hope set against a ravaged landscape. Combining the moral urgency and narrative drive of John Steinbeck with the erotic frankness of D. H. Lawrence, here is a powerful tale of America from one of our greatest artists.

I’m curious as to this “erotic frankness of D.H. Lawrence bit. This could be disastrous. But whatever, I’m glad it’s available. Certainly would a read, since at the very least I imagine the prose flows quickly.

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  • Still waiting for a posthumous duets album where he’s paired with Mylie Cyrus, Damian Marley and the guy from Maroon 5.

    • Pestilence

      Justin & Woody, together at last

      • Patrick

        Roll On, Columbia Records, Roll On.

        • That’s it! That’s the song I remember singing in my oh so poor public school in Santa Rosa in the early 60’s.
          That song book was comprised of songs directly related to the build up of infrasructure that MADE California a power house of innovation in all manner of things including the silicon valley.
          And my teacher, in that poor, little school, in an unincorporated area of Northern California, was a humble professional, in a state that then was the Global GOLD STANDARD OF EDUCATION and allowed a poor girl to see that literally, anything was possible.
          That’s been well and truly diminished, and were now one of the lowest in student funding (and subject to the tender mercies of Michelle Rhee) and there’s no new songs to sing about our daddies building the world of tomorrow today.
          But that song, I’ll take it to my grave, and sing it until I die!

  • LeeEsq

    Didn’t D.H. Lawrence have a not so minor flirtation of fascism?

    My favorite literary find was running across a copy of Zola’s The Truth in a San Francisco book shop. Its strangely relevant for today since the plot involves a Catholic priest sexually abusing and murdering a young boy and the attempted cover-up, in this case blaiming it a local village school-teacher. The translation in my copy is from 1906 and the translator’s introduction warns that sexual abuse is common in the Catholic Church.

  • Benjamin

    The “erotic frankness” refers to “a lengthy, graphic sex scene in a cowshed during which the husband and wife discuss the benefits of adobe homes.”


    The NPR piece this morning made Guthrie sound like quite the adobe fetishist.

    • howard

      i have a recollection that i don’t have the time to track down now that christgau mentioned a few years ago in a discussion of some woody guthrie project or another that he was a big porn fan, which, of course, doesn’t mean he can write it well!

      maybe when i have a moment i’ll try to research that memory further.

      • pete

        It’s here in a review of the excellent Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco:

        The folksy persona he projected–the updated Wobbly hobo who’d found solidarity among Soviet sympathizers and union men–reflected his own convictions. But it could have been custom-made for his most loyal audience. It ignored Woody the compulsive writer, Woody the tragedy-stricken sufferer, Woody the hard-drinking rowdy, Woody the sweetly sex-mad amateur pornographer who once did time on an obscene mail charge–all traits brought front and center by his new interpreters.

        • Ha, that reminds me. Woody Guthrie, writin’ ’bout sex:

          I’m a porter and a night clerk at the old hot rod hotel
          I clean and scrub the lobby down and thirty one rooms as well
          I wax and shine their boots and shoes, I brush down their crinkeldy clothes
          I meet the buses and the trains and show you to your door

          Bell bottom pants brought two boys in at six fourteen last night
          Two girls checked in at ten otwo and I flipped on their light
          The lamrods wife looks in their doors and finds one terrible sight
          Those boys and girls got bawled up in their doors and rooms last night

          A bloody flood could never messed these rooms up any worse
          It looked like moe had used this room to grease and breed a horse
          Old gum and hairs and sticky rags, old bottles on the floors
          Gobs of spit and condom rubbers on the windows, walls and doors

          The lammy tried to make me clean up the crappy mess
          Or else he’d fire me off my job and let me starve to death
          I laid aside my polish rag and downed my dusting pan
          And I’ve not seen the old hot rod nor that old town since then

        • Richard

          The obscene mail charge, for which he did ten days, was for sending sexually explicit letters to a female friend who didn’t appreciate them and went to the cops. Somehow, the letters were sufficiently weird so that the cops questioned him about the Black Dahlia murder. Not sure if that counts as an amateur pornographer. Maybe there’s some other stuff about pornography and Woody out there but I dont remember reading that.

        • howard

          thank you pete (the distributed power of the internet!).

          richard, i have no idea if there’s more to it than that or not.

          • howard

            ps. i agree that mermaid avenue is an excellent album.

    • rbcoover

      “Our walls may have a thermal mass of 1300 KJ/m³.k,” she gasped, “but I’ve never gotten hotter.”

    • Tybalt

      Ye gods. It makes it sound like Ayn Rand.

  • Speak Truth

    I will read anything a contemporary communist has written.

    And I will read this.

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  • Informant

    the erotic frankness of D. H. Lawrence

    I threw up a little in my mouth just reading that….

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