Recently I received a great honor. My poem, “A Look at Woody,” was chosen to be included in the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. I will be reading it during the festival on Saturday, July 16, in Okemah, Oklahoma.
I first learned about Woody in my music class at Stilwell Elementary School. “This Land Is Your Land” touched my heart and soul then and still does today. But, even though, I loved his music, I didn’t know much about the man and his times until I was in high school. After reading “The Grapes of Wrath”, I began to understand who Woody and John Steinbeck were talking about. Their inspirations were the poor folks who struggled to survive during hard times like the Great Depression. They especially focused on the “Okies”, who left their homes for the promise of better lives in California. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that my own family and the families of several in our community include Okies, and the exodus didn’t end after the Great Depression faded away. In particular, I remember one of my mother’s uncles who, along with his wife and children, would periodically travel to California, become migrant workers, make some money, and then return home to Oklahoma. This was happening in the 1950s, and I have found old pictures that prove that several relatives, on both sides of the family, were traveling to California during the 40s and 50s to try to improve their lots. Most came back home to Oklahoma, but some stayed in California. Thanks, Woody, for giving us insight into what life was like in these turbulent times and always sticking up for the poor and the oppressed.