Thanks to the efforts of actor Johnny Depp and historian David Brinkley, Oklahoma folk icon Woody Guthrie’s only fully realized novel, “House of Earth,” was released posthumously today.
“House of Earth,” a Dust Bowl tale Guthrie finished in 1947, is the first book in Depp’s publishing imprint with HarperCollins, called Infinitum Nihil (which means “nothing is forever” and is also the name of Depp’s film production company). It will publish two to three books a year, according to USA Today.
Guthrie was born July 14, 1912, in Okemah. The singer-songwriter, who died of of Huntington’s disease on Oct. 3, 1967, at the age of 55.
As previously reported, word of the novel’s existence and planned release surfaced last summer as Guthrie’s rich artistic legacy — he wrote about 3,000 songs along with essays, newspaper columns and his partially fictionalized autobiography “Bound for Glory” and as a visual artist created many paintings and illustrations — was being marked with the “Woody at 100” centennial celebration, a series of all-star concerts, album releases, conferences and tributes of all kinds.
According to USA Today, Brinkley was working on another book for Depp’s imprint — a biography of Bob Dylan, set to be released in 2015 — when he read a brief reference to “House of Earth” in the papers of folklorist Alan Lomax. Later, Brinkley discovered that Guthrie mailed the manuscript to filmmaker Irving Lerner and that it eventually ended up in a box at the University of Tulsa library.
Brinkley found no evidence Guthrie submitted the novel to a publisher. “Not long after he finished it, his health started deteriorating,” Brinkley told USA Today. “Also, its leftist politics and explicit sex scenes would have been hard to market in the Truman era.”
By e-mail, Depp told USA Today the novel is “a lost treasure of 20th-century American literature,” but he has no designs yet to adapt it as a movie.
“But should the possibility of a film be discussed,” he added, “it would be an honor to play any part in it.”
Here is the publisher’s description of “House of Earth”:
Finished in 1947 and lost to readers until now, “House of Earth” is Woody Guthrie’s only fully realized novel—a powerful portrait of Dust Bowl America, filled with the homespun lyricism and authenticity that have made his songs a part of our national consciousness. It is the story of an ordinary couple’s dreams of a better life and their search for love and meaning in a corrupt world.
Tike and Ella May Hamlin struggle to plant roots in the arid land of the Texas Panhandle. The husband and wife live in a precarious wooden farm shack, but Tike yearns for a sturdy house that will protect them from the treacherous elements. Thanks to a five-cent government pamphlet, Tike has the know-how to build a simple adobe dwelling, a structure made from the land itself—fireproof, windproof, Dust Bowl–proof. A house of earth.
Though they are one with the farm and with each other, the land on which Tike and Ella May live and work is not theirs. Due to larger forces beyond their control—including ranching conglomerates and banks—their adobe house remains painfully out of reach.
A story of rural realism and progressive activism, and in many ways a companion piece to Guthrie’s folk anthem “This Land Is Your Land,” House of Earth is a searing portrait of hardship and hope set against a ravaged landscape. Combining the moral urgency and narrative drive of John Steinbeck with the erotic frankness of D. H. Lawrence, here is a powerful tale of America from one of our greatest artists.
Here is a list of other new books, CDs and DVD/Blu-rays out today, from Amazon.com and VideoETA.com:
Josh Groban, “All That Echoes.”
Harry Connick Jr., “Smokey Mary.”
Tim McGraw, “Two Lanes of Freedom (Accelerated Deluxe Edition).”
Richard Thompson, “Electric (2-CD Deluxe Edition).”
Eels, “Wonderful, Glorious (2 CD Deluxe Edition).”
Roxy Music, “The Complete Studio Recordings (Box set).”
Townes Van Zandt, “Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971-1972.”
Coheed and Cambria, “The Afterman: Descension.”
Red, “Release the Panic (Deluxe Edition).”
Sanctus Real, “Run.”
Misfits, “D e a.d. A l i v e!”
Ron Sexsmith, “Forever Endeavour.”
Animaniacs: Volume 4
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Cougar Town: The Complete Third Season
Here Comes the Boom
A Late Quartet
Little White Lies
Paul Williams: Still Alive
Side by Side
You May Not Kiss the Bride
House of Earth: A Novel by Woody Guthrie
My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak
From Mama’s Table to Mine: Everybody’s Favorite Comfort Foods at 350 Calories or Less by Bobby Deen and Melissa Clark
Take 2: Your Guide to Creating Happy Endings and New Beginnings by Leeza Gibbons
Wise Men: A Novel by Stuart Nadler
Big Nate Flips Out by Lincoln Peirce
Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner