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Bound for Glory
By Woody Guthrie
E.P. Dutton Co., Inc.
1943
428 Pages

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In 1943 Clifton Fadiman wrote in The New Yorker about Bound for Glory: "Woody Guthrie and the ten thousand songs that leap and tumble off the strings of his music box are a national possession, like Yellowstone and Yosemite. There is a wonderful tone, a cocky poetry in these pages."

In the more than half a century since, the legend of Woody Guthrie has become enshrined like that of some kind of patron saint of folk music and Americana. But the man himself was much more than that. His memoir is that of a ragged minstrel, selling his sweater for a dime to buy a bowl of soup, sharing the hardship of his companions in boxcars, hobo jungles, dusty roads or waterfront bars. His account of his life is not simply folklore, but a deeply felt excursion out of personal pain and family tragedy, filled with a sense of wonder that proclaims itself in timeless songs and the deceptively simple but expressive drawings that accompany his words. Bound for Glory is the heartfelt testament of a man who transformed his life into art, who wrote and sang the songs of the little people of America, himself included, and turned them into an epic that sings out to us still, and always will.

Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912 (he was named for Woodrow Wilson, who was elected President that year). After a poor and troubled childhood (his mother suffered from mental illness and died in an institution), Woody went on the road as a migrant worker and itinerant musician, and with brief exceptions never settled down. He became involved in the struggles of organized labor and many of his songs dealt with contemporary social issues, while others were charming nonsense rhymes written for his children (his son Arlo eventually established his own career as a songwriter and performer).

Together with friends like Huddie Ledbetter, Cisco Houston, and Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie laid the ground for a golden age of contemporary folk music that first flowered in the 1940s with such groups as the Weavers, and then in the great folk revival of the 1960s, most notably in the person of Bob Dylan, who modeled his early musical persona (and writing style) after Guthrie's.

Stricken with Huntington's Chorea, a progressive nervous disorder, Woody Guthrie spent most of the last two decades of his life in an institution. He died in 1967, by which time his song "This Land Is Your Land" had become the anthem of a new generation.