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House of Earth

Woody Guthrie's novel, 60 years in coming, offers a fresh window into the past – and into Guthrie himself.

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"House of Earth" by Woody Guthrie
HarperCollins
288 pp.

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 Though John Steinbeck might be considered the unofficial chronicler of Dust Bowl-era America, folk singer Woody Guthrie certainly occupies a firm place in the pantheon of artists with something to say about that world. While Guthrie has thus far been renowned as the writer of thousands of songs and as a champion of the proletariat, he’s belatedly getting another accomplishment added to his bio: published novelist.

Guthrie published a memoir and a fictionalized autobiography in his lifetime, but never sought to publish his only novel, House of Earth. But now history professor Douglas Brinkley and actor Johnny Depp have worked together to bring the story to publication. They say they’ve made only cosmetic changes and restructured two paragraphs from the recently rediscovered manuscript.

The novel follows Tike and Ella May Hamlin, two dust bowl farmers in the Texas panhandle striving to survive in a ramshackle wooden house on land they don’t own in an unforgiving climate. One day, Tike comes home with a book from the government about how to construct an adobe house, the titular house of earth. Their one-room, run-down house doesn’t keep hot or cold out, but the new adobe house would be cheap and easy to build, and promises a new beginning for them.

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