Forty-six years after his death, singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame.
“Staunchly conservative Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in the nation, has now finally accepted its lefty prodigal son,” Oklahoma author Michael Wallis said, prompting loud applause.
Wallis spoke to a crowd of about 200 at the Oklahoma State University Tulsa auditorium Thursday evening.
Guthrie was one of the 20th century’s most important spokesmen, Wallis said. He was a champion of the disenfranchised.
The nation is still steeped in inequality, he said.
“His words still have impact and relevance,” Wallis said. “They represent exactly what caring and what intelligent grassroots people are trying to achieve all across the nation. Despite the ignorance, despite the disparity.”
Wallis presented an Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame pin to Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s daughter, to commemorate her father’s induction.
Imagination and courage were the aspects of Woody Guthrie’s writing process that Nora Guthrie remembers most. Woody Guthrie’s lack of an education gave him the courage to write despite criticism, Nora Guthrie said.
“He only went to the 10th grade,” she said. “…which allowed him to be free to imagine and think and write and create new ways of writing, even to the extent of creating a new language.”
Nora Guthrie encouraged young writers in the audience to write because they had something positive to say and not to follow celebrity culture.
“You all continue where he left off, and we’ll all be in good shape,” Nora Guthrie said.
Like Nora Guthrie, Will Kaufman was also impressed by Woody Guthrie’s courage.
Armed with an acoustic guitar, Kaufman, a Woody Guthrie scholar, came onto the stage. He alternated between playing Woody Guthrie songs and telling stories about the legendary songwriter.
Kaufman has written a biography, “Woody Guthrie, American Radical.” Kaufman explained why he decided to write a political biography.
“He took his outrage and his astonishment and filtered it through a whole range of human emotions and human expressions,” Kaufman said.
In addition to Woody Guthrie, young adult author Anna Myers was also inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame.
Myers has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times. Her newest book is “The Grave Robber’s Secret.”
“Story is one of the two most powerful forces in the world, second only to love,” Myers said.