Woody Guthrie’s sister takes readers down ‘Woody’s Road’ with new book, released during Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah
From Friday’s The Oklahoman.
Woody Guthrie’s sister takes readers down ‘Woody’s Road’
Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon released a new book of letters, drawings and other mementoes from her famous brother Thursday during the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah.
OKEMAH — Nearly 45 years after her brother’s death, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon continues to find him just as inspiring as he was when they grew up together.
As the music world prepares to celebrate what would have been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday Saturday, Edgmon is happily sharing what she calls her “treasures” from and featuring her older brother.
Edgmon, 89, and Guy Logsdon, an expert on Guthrie’s music and life, released their new book “Woody’s Road: Woody Guthrie’s Letters Home, Drawings, Photos, and Other Unburied Treasures” Thursday during the 15th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, where Edgmon is the perennial guest of honor.
“It’s fabulous. I haven’t been able to put it down. I’ve read it twice,” said Edgmon, smiling during a pause in scrawling her initials inside copies of the book.
About 30 family, friends and fans celebrated Edgmon and the book with a surprise reception Thursday afternoon at the Okfuskee County Historical Society. After, a steady stream of admirers filed into the museum for a book signing and chance to chat with Woody’s sister.
“I’ve been looking forward to this book for a couple of years,” said Gerry Mochan, who has made the pilgrimage from his home in Northern Ireland to WoodyFest every year for more than a decade. “She’s a lovely lady. She’s part of the festival.”
The free Woody Guthrie Folk Festival continues through Sunday in various locations in Okemah, Guthrie’s hometown. WoodyFest event celebrates the Oklahoma icon’s legacy with an array of musical performances, children’s activities, an open mike, poetry readings, a guitar workshop, fundraisers for the state chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America and more.
This year, WoodyFest is part of a larger global centennial commemoration titled “Woody at 100,” a series of all-star concerts, album releases and tributes of all kinds. The music legend died of Huntington’s disease on Oct. 3, 1967, at the age of 55.
“It’s worldwide the whole year,” said Edgmon, a former Seminole resident who now lives in a Shawnee assisted living facility. “I’m so excited I don’t know what to do.”
Her contribution to the centennial is unique: Since she was 13 years old, Edgmon has kept every letter, drawing, photo and other memento she has received from or about her brother, lovingly preserving them in scrapbooks or frames. She was the first Woody Guthrie collector, and her “treasures” are the main draw of “Woody’s Road.”
Logsdon, a former University of Tulsa professor, wrote the book’s biographical narrative. Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s son and fellow folk singer-songwriter, and David Amram, an acclaimed musician and WoodyFest regular, penned forewords for the coffee-table volume, published by Paradigm Publishers.
“Oh, it’s like a dream. I had read biographies of Woody Guthrie before, but if you’d ever told me I would be publishing a collection of his things put together by his own sister and I’d be in Okemah today … I would have said, ‘you’re dreaming,’” Paradigm President Dean Birkenkamp said with a laugh during the signing.
Amram, a pioneering French horn player, prolific composer and world music ambassador, has written three books published by Paradigm and introduced Birkenkamp to Edgmon, Logsdon and their book idea. “Woody’s Road” is part of Paradigm’s “Nine Lives Musical Series,” which Amram edits.
“Woody’s sister and Guy were interested in doing it, but of course, if they had to contact a regular New York-type publisher and go through a staff of 36 people, it never would have gotten a decision. And then they would have ended up just writing another book about everything except Woody Guthrie,” said Amram, who spent a memorable afternoon with Guthrie in 1956 in New York.
“This is in Woody’s own beautiful, brilliant writings … and I was just honored to be part of it.”
Ann Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s 95-year-old sister-in-law, contributed one of the book’s highlights, an essay of life lessons the folk troubadour wrote for her then-3-day-old daughter, Mary Ann.
“That letter he wrote for her is a book to itself,” Ann Guthrie said.
15th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
When: Through Sunday.
Where: Various venues in Okemah
What: Musical performances, children’s activities, open mike, poetry readings, guitar workshop, fundraisers for the state chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America and more.
Parking: Free for daytime events; $15 per car evenings at the Pastures of Plenty Stage. Cost includes a festival program.