This biography dismantles the Woody Guthrie we have been taught – the rough-and-ready rambling’ man – to reveal an artist who discovered how intimacy is crucial for political struggle.
Woody Guthrie is often mythologized as the classic American “rambling’ man,” a real-life Steinbeckian folk hero who fought for working-class interests and inspired Bob Dylan. Biographers and fans frame him as a foe of fascism and focus on his politically charged folk songs. What’s left unexamined is how the bulk of Guthrie’s work – most of which is unpublished or little known – delves into the importance of intimacy in his personal and political life. Featuring an insert with personal photos of Guthrie’s family and previously unknown paintings, Woody Guthrie: An Intimate Life is a fresh and contemporary analysis of the overlapping influences of sexuality, politics, and disability on the art and mind of an American folk icon.
Part biography, part cultural history of the Left, Woody Guthrie offers a stunning revelation about America’s quintessential folk legend, who serves as a guiding light for leftist movements today. In his close relationship with dancer Marjorie Mazia, Guthrie discovered a restorative way of thinking about the body, which provided a salve for the trauma of his childhood and the slowly debilitating effects of Huntington’s disease. Rejecting bodily shame and embracing the power of sexuality, he came to believe that intimacy was the linchpin for political struggle. By closely connecting to others, society could combat the customary emotional states of capitalist cultures: loneliness and isolation. Using intimacy as one’s weapon, Guthrie believed we could fight fascism’s seductive call.
Beacon Press, 2021
GUSTAVUS STADLER is professor of English at Haverford College. A well-established scholar of nineteenth- and twentieth-century US culture and popular music, he is the author of Troubling Minds: The Cultural Politics of Genius in the U.S., 1840–1890. His writing has appeared in the Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, the North Carolina Independent Weekly, Social Text, Sounding Out!, avidly.com, and numerous other outlets.