House of Earth: Hear Woody Guthrie’s Lost Novel, Published by Johnny Depp, as an Audio Book

House of earth

Woody Guthrie may have writ­ten as many as 3,000 folk songs, but he did­n’t lim­it him­self there. He also man­aged to write a nov­el called House of Earth, which only last month saw the light of day. To whom do we owe the plea­sure of read­ing this pre­vi­ous­ly unknown adden­dum to the pro­lif­ic singer-song­writer’s career? Why, to his­to­ri­an Dou­glas Brink­ley, actor John­ny Depp, and Guthrie’s daugh­ter Nora. Research­ing a forth­com­ing biog­ra­phy of Bob Dylan, Brink­ley spot­ted a men­tion of House of Earth some­where deep in the files of famous folk-music recordist Alan Lomax. He traced the man­u­script to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tul­sa library, which had it in stor­age. Depp had recent­ly start­ed his own pub­lish­ing imprint, Infini­tum Nihil, and Brink­ley passed along this promis­ing piece of mate­r­i­al. (The two had known each oth­er for years, hav­ing ini­tial­ly met through that great lit­er­ary con­nec­tor, Dr. Hunter S. Thomp­son.)

With House of Earth, Guthrie wrote a Dust Bowl nov­el, but one very much in tune with his own sen­si­bil­i­ties. Unlike John Stein­beck­’s The Grapes of Wrath, Guthrie’s sto­ry fol­lows not the farm fam­i­lies who fled west, but those who remained on the Texas plains. “Pitched some­where between rur­al real­ism and pro­le­tar­i­an protest,” write Brink­ley and Depp in a New York Times Book Review essay, “some­what sta­t­ic in terms of nar­ra­tive dri­ve, ‘House of Earth’ nonethe­less offers a sear­ing por­trait of the Pan­han­dle and its mar­gin­al­ized Great Depres­sion res­i­dents. Guthrie suc­cess­ful­ly mix­es Steinbeck’s nar­ra­tive verve with D. H. Lawrence’s open­ness to erot­ic explo­ration.” As of this week, you can read and also now hear the book, as read by Will Pat­ton, in an audio ver­sion released by (Find info on how to get it for free below.) At the top of this post, you’ll find a short clip of Pat­ton deliv­er­ing the singer’s prose. Though Guthrie will remain best known for his polit­i­cal­ly-charged songs, his nov­el, which launch­es broad­sides against big finance, big lum­ber, and big agri­cul­ture, should car­ry charge enough for any of his enthu­si­asts.

Note: Do you want to down­load House of Earth from Audi­ble for free? Here’s one way to do it. Just head over to and reg­is­ter for a 30-day free tri­al. You can down­load any audio book for free. Then, when the tri­al is over, you can con­tin­ue your Audi­ble sub­scrip­tion, or can­cel it, and still keep the audio book. The choice is yours. And, in full dis­clo­sure, let me tell you that we have a nice arrange­ment with Audi­ble. When­ev­er some­one signs up for a free tri­al, it helps sup­port Open Cul­ture. That’s cool. But frankly, we work with them because I per­son­al­ly use the ser­vice noth­ing short of reli­gious­ly. 

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Woody Guthrie at 100: Cel­e­brate His Amaz­ing Life with a BBC Film

Woody Guthrie’s Fan Let­ter To John Cage and Alan Hov­haness (1947)

375 Free eBooks: Down­load to Kin­dle, iPad/iPhone & Nook

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • I’d love to hear more of the back­sto­ry on this, such as when was it writ­ten and why was it nev­er pub­lished? Kudos to Brink­ley for pur­su­ing the trail of the lost man­u­script.

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