NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Daughter of HOUSE OF EARTH author Woody Guthrie

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NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby Liz » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:21 pm

Fireflydances and I are thrilled to present our interview with Nora Guthrie. What a wonderful experience it was to chat with her.

She is one of the most delightful and gracious people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Her daddy would be proud!

Our thanks to all the Noodlemantras who submitted questions. We got a lot of great questions. And while there was not enough time to ask every one, what we received by way of answers far exceeded our expectations.

Much thanks to Nora for her time and for talking with us.

This is the first in a series of parts. Note that we will not post over the weekend.

I now give you Nora Guthrie….



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Liz: Did you recognize anyone in House of Earth? Do you think it was autobiographical?

Nora: Not literally. But then he uses his life experiences for his creativity. And they don’t necessarily have to be his own experiences. I think that he very easily incorporates other people’s lives into his own. He has a real knack, a talent for seeing other people’s lives through their eyes. For some reason he’s able to imbed himself in somebody else’s body, and talk like they talk, walk like they walk. So when I say autobiographical, I don’t mean literally. Now it could be, but I’m just saying that’s how he tends to write in general. But specifically I think he had so many of these kinds of experiences when he was living in Pampa, Texas at the worst of the Dust Bowl times. With his young wife - you know he was married at 19; his wife was 16 at the time. There are some aspects of the characters that really, really remind me of the way they would have talked to each other, the way the dealt with each other, living through the Dust Bowl together. etc. So I don’t know if it’s literally autobiographical but absolutely, he always uses his life experiences for his creativity, yeah.

Liz: I like the way you put that.

Nora: It’s a little bit different than literally autobiographical, you know? And I found with a lot of his writings, and even in his songs, he always uses -- many, many times --he’ll use the “I.” He’ll say “I was doing this, I was doing that,” but the song is about a miner, or it’s about a woman, or it’s about a child and he always uses the “I.” And it’s really interesting. He’ll never say “my child did this” in a song. You know, “my daughter put her hand out.” He’ll always writes, “I put out my little hand.” He’s speaking in the voice of the child. And he does this across the board. He’ll take the persona of a woman; he’ll take the persona of a miner. He’ll take the persona of just about anybody, actually. (chuckles) I just think that’s an interesting twist on how he is as a writer. He seems to take on all these different personas. As a matter of fact -- and just as a very, very extreme case of this-- he had written a couple of songs about being a Jewish person in a concentration camp and it’s I. You know, “I did this, and I walked here, and I did that.” And I’m like wow, how do you know how it feels to be like that, to be in these kinds of situations? And honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question. All I know is he does that all the time. (laughs) So it will never be about Woody. He’s always talking about someone else and he’ll use their “I.”

Liz: Many of our members were baffled by Tike’s description of childbirth (Nora chuckles) as some of the details didn’t jibe with what their experiences were, and so, for example, the afterbirth generally isn’t expelled so quickly. So our readers were wondering what Woody was trying to go for there?

Nora: Right, I can pretty much promise you he wasn’t present at a birth. In those days the men were not present. I mean other than watching an animal on the farm being born. But other than that, men tended not to be present at the births. And I know that’s true with my mother and us children. He was not present in the room when we were born. And I doubt very much that he was present when his first wife Mary’s children were born. So I think this is again, Woody projecting himself, based on what he might imagine might take place at birth. (chuckles) He probably knew something about it, more from living in farm communities and hearing about it. But I think he did get the order wrong in this one, (chuckles) and I think he was really trying to use the situation to describe the emotions, yes. I don’t think he was ever present in an actual childbirth.

Liz: The chapters. They had very intriguing and puzzling titles. Were these Woody’s or did the editors work with them?
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Nora: No, all the chapter heading are Woody’s. And I have to agree with you, they are often puzzling to me, too. But not just in this book. In Bound for Glory, the chapter headings. And some of the song titles, you know, he wrote over 3000 songs. And sometimes I’ll look at a title, and (think) what is this about? And I’m not quite sure until I read. And it will be one line from the last verse or something. It might not be about what the song is about, but he’ll take one line from it, some point from the writing, and use that as the title. To be honest, he sometimes he would create titles that were, to him, kind of personal page markers, as a way for him to get the story straight. So he would remember it as: Dry Rosin. You know, that almost became like a page marker or book marker, like they have on the internet now? So he would remember the point he was trying to make if he used Dry Rosin in the title. I think if he had an editor, they might recommend that he change the title, to make it more connected to what actually happening in the chapter itself or in the novel. And I know that he did, when he had a chance to work with editors, like in Bound for Glory. I mean I think Bound for Glory, the original title was Boom Chasers. And that was a way, I think, for him to go “that’s the feel of what I want to say, that’s what the story line is going to be about.” But coming up with a chapter or a title head is different for the public than it is for the writer. So, I think that --especially in House of Earth -- these are titles he used just to remember where he was going or what point he wanted to make in the story.

Another example is This Land Is Your Land. That was not originally titled This Land Is Your Land. It was originally titled God Blessed America for Me, then it was shortened to This Land Is Made for You and Me, and then he shortened again to This Land Is Your Land. So as he worked with outsiders, and he would get different comments and suggestions from professional outsiders like editors or publishers, he was often quite willing to change the titles or names. For himself, again I say he used them as reminders of what point he wanted to make in his writing. And I think in House of Earth - Termites – it’s not really quite a title! And a lot of times it doesn’t even express the entirety of what is happening in the chapter. It’s just his own note to himself and because we issued House of Earth in its entirety without any editing, it kind of remained in its original form.


Fireflydances: Yes, I’m glad you didn’t do any editing because I think it speaks more strongly of Woody the way it is.

Nora: You know, it’s interesting, one of the things we did when we had the first transcription that was done, the first round. The proofreader had changed, for instance, the word “lady” which Woody always wrote with a capital L to a lower case. And doesn’t that change the meaning of the sentence?! If you’re saying “hey lady,” without a capital it means one thing, and if it’s “hey, Lady” then it’s a completely different thing. We had to go back and say, no, that’s not a typo. That is her name; he calls her Lady. And that’s a capital L, that’s what he intended. A lot of times we have to work very, very carefully word by word, line by line with publishers because they are used to reading at face value, if you know what I mean.

Fireflydances: I do.

Nora: They are used to reading for grammar; they’re used to reading for face value, almost like a newspaper article, as opposed to a creative piece of writing. And Woody’s way of writing is very, very particular. The way he writes women – w o m b e n. He knows how to spell women, believe me! So when he chooses to use “womben,” he’s not just saying something about women, he’s saying something about his relationship with women. That he thinks very deeply of women as figures of Mother Earth, and things like that, in that fertility symbol. It’s almost an archetype.
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The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby nebraska » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:39 pm

Oh, what a wonderful discussion! It gave me a better understanding of several things, especially that bit about the chapter titles and Woody's writing in general.

A question for our moderators, did you meet with Nora in person or do a Skype chat or something? There seems to be a lot of give and take between the three of you.

Amazing interview! :applause2: And there is more to come!

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby Theresa » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:52 pm

I think it's very interesting how Nora talks about her father in the present tense.

Great start to the interview, and great questions...and replies!

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby fireflydances » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:06 pm

Hi there nebraska. We initially planned to do the interview by Skype, but the connection kept breaking, so Nora suggested we move to a conference call, and that's what we did. And truly, it was like a conversation. She has a very generous spirit. It's an amazing interview.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby shadowydog » Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:58 am

Theresa wrote:I think it's very interesting how Nora talks about her father in the present tense.

Great start to the interview, and great questions...and replies!



I noticed that also. And the way she describes her father's writing, I think she got that trait from him.

I never knew about her; but I grew up listening to her brother and I think they have both been deeply influenced by their father.
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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby Buster » Fri Jun 07, 2013 3:32 pm

(Woody) uses his life experiences for his creativity. And they don’t necessarily have to be his own experiences. I think that he very easily incorporates other people’s lives into his own. He has a real knack, a talent for seeing other people’s lives through their eyes.


It sounds as if he would have been an amazing actor - that sort of imagination coupled with the empathy Nora describes a little later on would be a truly charismatic combination.

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby Liz » Sat Jun 08, 2013 10:47 pm

shadowydog wrote:
Theresa wrote:I think it's very interesting how Nora talks about her father in the present tense.

Great start to the interview, and great questions...and replies!



I noticed that also. And the way she describes her father's writing, I think she got that trait from him.



Wow! You're right. I think I've been too closely involved to notice.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 1

Unread postby SnoopyDances » Wed Jun 12, 2013 9:19 pm

Just now getting around to looking at the interview....

This is absolutely wonderful! :applause2:
Thanks so much Liz and Firefly....This is a very "comfortable" read, like I'm in the room with you.

And thanks to Nora...a very generous spirit indeed. :goodvibes:


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