In the midst of the dust bowl era, famed folk singer Woody Guthrie purchased a pamphlet from the USDA entitled “The Use of Adobe or Sun-Dried Brick for Farm Building.” Guthrie himself had experienced an enormous dust cloud while in Pampa in 1937 and became obsessed with building a “house of earth” that would provide more protection from that element, unlike the wooden lean-tos that populated West Texas at the time.
The novel House of Earth was inspired by Guthrie’s fascination with adobe building, and has never before been published. (His semi-autobiographical book Bound for Glory was published in 1943 and other works have been released posthumously.) Johnny Depp, along with author Douglas Brinkley, wrote about their discovery of Guthrie’s novel as well as the decision to edit and publish it in this New York Times essay in early July.
House of Earth, inspired by Guthrie’s own experiences, is a social realist novel about West Texas farmers Tike and Ella May Hamlin, whose simple dream of a house built of earth is thwarted by big business and greedy landlords. The jacket cover is an original painting by Guthrie. House of Earth is set for release in February 2013, just a few months after the centennial of Guthrie’s birth.
Here’s an excerpt from the novel that showcases Woody Guthrie’s distinctive style and talent for capturing the rugged Texas landscape:
It was a clear day. A blue sky. A few puffy, white-looking thunderclouds dragged their shadows like dark sheets across the flat Cap Rock country. The Cap Rock is that big high, crooked cliff of limestone, sandrock, marble, and flint, that divides the lower west Texas plains from the upper north panhandle plains. The canyons, dry wash rivers, sandy creek beds, ditches, and gullies that joined up with the Cap Rock cliff form the graveyard of past Indian civilizations, flying and testing grounds of herds of leather-winged bats, drying grounds of monster-size bones and teeth, roosting, nesting, and the breeding place of the bald-headed big brown eagle. Dens of rattlesnakes, scorpions, jackrabbit, cottontail, ants, horny butterfly, horned toad, and stinging winds and seasons. These things all were born of the Cap Rock cliff and it was alive and moving with all these and with the mummy skeletons of early settlers of all colors. A world close to the sun, closer to the wind, the cloudbursts, floods, gumbo muds, the dry and dusty things that lose their footing in this world, and blow, and roll, jump wire fences, like the tumbleweed, and take their last earthly leap in the north wind out and down, off the upper north plains, and down onto the sandier cotton plains that commence to take shape west of the Clarendon.
Were you familiar with Woody Guthrie’s talents as an author and artist as well as a singer/songwriter? Will you read House of Earth after its February release?