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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

My Work-Study Internship

World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller, Library of Congress, Creative Commons

World Telegram pho­to by Al Aumuller, Library of Con­gress, Cre­ative Com­mons

The first col­lege I attend­ed was Anti­och Col­lege in Yel­low Springs, Ohio. It had a work-study cur­ricu­lum in which half your year was spent work­ing off-cam­pus on some job relat­ing to your pro­fes­sion­al aspi­ra­tions. At that time, being inter­est­ed in the the­atre, I was offered and took a job at a Cleve­land tele­vi­sion sta­tion. A few days before the job began it was can­celed. I was offered a job at a book­store, but decid­ed to find a job on my own.

A fam­i­ly friend was Lee Hays, the bari­tone singer for the pop­u­lar folk group, The Weavers. Lee also was a men­tor to me and my would-be writ­ing career. I don’t recall the cir­cum­stances but hav­ing learned that I was look­ing for a job, he sent me to Harold Lev­en­thal, who man­aged The Weavers. Lev­en­thal offered me a job.

It appeared that Mr. Lev­en­thal was involved in some way with the estate of the late Woody Guthrie. What was the job? Guthrie was not just a famous per­former, and a song writer, he was a writer. In 1943, he had pub­lished a “par­tial­ly fic­tion­al­ized” auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Indeed, he left box­es of man­u­scripts. What job was I offered? Read through all those box­es and let Mr. Lev­en­thal know if any­thing was worth pub­lish­ing. I was next inter­viewed by Pete Seeger who was also involved in the Guthrie estate.

I got what I thought was a glam­orous job. If this seems an odd job to be giv­en to a nineteen-year-old—I would, in ret­ro­spect, agree The many box­es arrived.

I held myself to work­ing an eight-hour day.

The prob­lem was that Guthrie had Huntington’s dis­ease, which is “a fatal genet­ic dis­or­der that caus­es the pro­gres­sive break­down of nerve cells in the brain. It dete­ri­o­rates a person’s phys­i­cal and men­tal abil­i­ties dur­ing their prime work­ing years and has no cure.”

Thus the Guthrie writ­ing I had to read—from his late years—was at best errat­ic, and often dis­turb­ing. What­ev­er hero wor­ship I might have had about this vital, huge­ly cre­ative and impor­tant man, rapid­ly dis­in­te­grat­ed. But being the age I was, I dogged­ly read on, eight hours a day for three months.

When, after the three months were up and I came in to report to Mr. Lev­en­thal, he asked, “Is there any­thing worth pub­lish­ing?” To which I replied, “Noth­ing.”

Why these folks trust­ed my judgment—or even if they did trust my judgment—I nev­er learned. But I am per­haps one of the few peo­ple who—ever since—cannot bear to lis­ten to the dis­tinc­tive voice of Woody Guthrie. I had got­ten too much into his ill mind.

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