Scott Field, Illinois: October 29, 1945.
Six pages on three sheets of lined paper (measuring 8 by 10-1/2 inches), neat cursive on recto and verso, bound with single staple at upper corner. Text fresh and clean, faint creases at foldlines. New Grove, 856. From the estate of Charlotte Strauss, whose revealing and often passionate correspondence with Guthrie began in 1945, intensified as he completed his tour with the Army, and continued over several years. Item #100273
“YOUR LETTER ABOUT MY BOOK (BOUND FOR GLORY) GOT DOWN HERE TODAY… YOU HAVE TAKEN ME BACK OVER MY OLD TRACKS”: IMPORTANT 1945 AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED BY GUTHRIE, THE FIRST IN HIS LONG AND OFTEN INTIMATE CORRESPONDENCE WITH CHARLOTTE STRAUSS, DISCUSSING BOUND FOR GLORY. Original signed autograph letter, this six-page letter written entirely in Woody Guthrie’s penciled cursive, twice signed by him and dated October 29th, 1945, is the first in his largely unpublicized and deeply meaningful correspondence with a woman named Charlotte Strauss. Here Guthrie talks of the 1200-page manuscript for Bound for Glory that was “cut down to four hundred and forty eight pages,” and slyly confesses that “I like to hear people talk about me and my works.” In 1946 Woody Guthrie was drafted into the army and was soon sent to Scott Field in Illinois where he often suffered deep loneliness offset only by writing extraordinarily rich and complex letters to his future wife Marjorie and, as he would later confess, “love letters to other women” (Klein, 316). Among these was a long, passionate and largely unpublished correspondence with this letter’s recipient Charlotte Strauss. In this October letter, his first to Strauss, Guthrie tells her that “your letter about my book (Bound for Glory) got down here today. Marjorie read it [the letter] at home and then mailed it on… Your letter gets me to feel just like my book made you feel… You have taken me back over my old tracks again and showed me twelve thousand more stories and places to write about… You won’t feel bad if I tell you plain that I like to hear people talk about me and my works.” Guthrie talks of submitting a 1200-page manuscript to his Bound for Glory publisher, which “they cut down to four hundred and forty eight pages,” and asks for “permission to publish all or any part of your letter”—a request she seems to have resisted in their continuing and intimate correspondence. Guthrie’s letter reads as follows: “Scott Field, Illinois, October 29th, 1945. Dear Charlotte Strauss, Your letter about my book ‘(Bound for Glory)’ got down here today. Marjorie read it at home and then mailed it on. I don’t know exactly where to start nor how. But have got to start somewhere. Your letter gets me to feel just like my book made you feel. You turned your whole self so free in your letter that you gave me that same old feeling I had as I took every one of the steps in the book. I sent E.P. Dutton, the Publisher, twelve hundred pages, over thirty chapters and they cut it all down to four hundred and forty eight pages. You have taken me back over my old tracks again and showed me twelve thousand more stories and places to write about. You pointed to things I thought were done and gone. You came pretty close to making me think of myself in bigger words than usual. You made me remember, reconsider and recall. You won’t feel bad if I tell you plain that I like to hear people talk about me and my works, I won’t hide the fact. You may have expected that I would brush light and walk easy across your pages, but I found myself walking slow and running deep. Two [page number] A letter like yours is a thing to hold in your eyesight and to feel good about, and it is because the Bowery flops and Skid Rows are full of such letters as yours, in word, in actions, down under and seldom seen, that causes me to hold some kind of a borderline stake claim not only where my feet took me but all along yonder where you settled yours. And your home grounds there see all of the ones that I moved over and across. You did your job in good shape. You saw. You saw because you heard. You heard because you smelled and tasted and listened to all of the feet walking by. You traveled in your way, the same as I did in mine. You must have had the desire for the gift of seeing. You may have traveled in body a good deal, or not much at all, this fades out, and your sight travels on. And your letter keeps traveling. You own that talent by which you make anybody’s world your own, and everybody’s life your life, this is the gift of insight and is not my property nor yours but sort of like the weather that blows over both places. It is a real good thing to get and to set down and read a letter where the writer is trying to use at least 90% of his or her strength in the words. This is what you have done. You used all of your energy. And I would walk considerable distance any day to look at any human using all of this energy at any job. Three [page number] I don’t know what to say to you. When I commenced to write I didn’t know what words to set down. But you will look at what you see here and you will fill in the dry mesas with the seeds of your own irrigating. You will know that I here return to you some kind of a fair swap of thoughts. Our thoughts are a lot like the workers all over the world fighting for a cleaner town and a closer Union. Or like the sun of this good Indian Summer all up and down the things that take root to grow anywhere up and down the banks of this big Mississippi River. I see the waters run and the towns of shacks and bricks float past me, and I wish for the day when I’ll get my discharge from the army. You say on page two, about kids, etc., ‘Before maturity has had a chance to suppress these pure bright flames’. But I never did believe that maturity does surpress [sic] those flames, except by mental circuses and tricks of your imagination, that is, to follow the dull or dim fields of your imagining. Lots of folks do this, but ‘maturity’ is the one and same flame as your childhood. Also would doubt this sentence, p. 4., ‘for W.G. had the sanest, most sensible faculty for rationalization ever bequeathed to man’. You ought to have put it: ‘W.G. was still able to walk on both feet at same time’. 4 [page number circled] It is funny, but you give me the feeling that you did not write this letter for W.G. only, as you tell me. You wrote it for the good and welfare of some person very near to you there, nearer at heart. Partly because of the fact that you feel this person to be in some funny, sad and curious part of life that you hate and fear. You hoped as you wrote this letter that this one person (or more) could see what you were driving at and soak up some of your good thoughts from reading (or by being spoken to in the same vein of) your letter. On your sixth page you say, ‘It would remain forever glowing in your heart, just as the life of W.G. flames above the glimmer of we trivial mortals’. I, for one, just can’t suck this sentence in. No mortal is trivial. I never had a flame to jump up above anybody. If I did I would just play up a good rain song to smoke the flame down to everybody’s size. Besides it just isn’t right to try to cause any one person to form the superstition that his light outshines everybody elses [sic]. There are thousands of shinier ones right there in your town of Bristol. It is this super flame notion that ‘Bound For Glory’ fights to kill. And for your letter so long this is about all that I picked out as excess. I got what you mentally meant here in these praises, but this was where got to praising so fast that you couldn’t stop. These few patches never could be printed because I have already written ‘no go’ on the margin and signed it W.G. But I would like to have your written permission to publish all or any part of your letter. 5 [page number circled] I hope that you are not thinking that I got the least bit cute or smart alecky in writing down the sentences, Charlotte, the ones I would have to leave out of my own mind and out of any published script. I hope you feel that I am right in taking note of these lines, and would like for you to tell me when you write, that you agree that said sentences ought to be marked out with an old pencil. Give my best wishes to everybody that you see. And to your self. Your friend. Pvt. W. Woody Guthrie. A. & N. 42234634, 3505th A.A.F.B.U., Squadron ‘L” Scott Field, Illinois. October 29th, 1945.[continuing on the verso] If me and my guitar are ever in your town we will look for your door. Woody Guthrie.” A highly desirable letter in about-fine condition.
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