Searching for Woody Guthrie

A Personal Exploration of the Folk Singer, His Music, and His Politics

  • Author(s): Briley, Ron
  • Series: Charles K. Wolfe Music Series
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2019-12-15
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $29.95 | Buy Now
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Born in the summer of 1912, Woody Guthrie remains one of the most significant figures in American folk music to this day. While most Americans know his iconic anthem “This Land Is Your Land,” surprisingly few understand Guthrie’s place in the greater context of American radicalism and protest in the 1930s and beyond.

In Searching for Woody Guthrie, Ron Briley embarks on a chronological exploration of Guthrie’s music in the vein of American radicalism and civil rights. Briley begins this journey with an overview of five key periods in Guthrie’s life and, in the chapters that follow, analyzes his political ideas through primary and secondary source materials.

While numerous biographies on Woody Guthrie exist—including Guthrie’s own 1943 autobiography—this book takes a different approach. Less biographical and more thematic in nature, Searching for Woody Guthrie centers around Guthrie’s faith in the common working people of America, bringing together People’s Daily World “Woody Sez” newspaper columns, Guthrie centennial secondary source texts, research in the Woody Guthrie Archives, and Briley’s own personal reflections to present a narrative that is at once personal to the author and relatable to America’s rural working class.

Interlacing Guthrie’s music with his own geographic and economic background, Briley presents an original and eloquent chronology of Guthrie’s life and work in what amounts to a compelling new case for why that work, more than fifty years after Guthrie’s death, continues to leave its mark.


Now retired, RON BRILEY taught history and served as assistant head of school at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque for forty years. He is the author of The Baseball Film in Postwar America: A Critical Study and The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan: The Politics of the Post-HUAC Films.