Monday, July 14, 2008

July 14: Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)

[Image description: Woody Guthrie, guitar in hands; guitar displays a sign that reads "This Machine Kills Fascists"]

"The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine."
--Woody Guthrie

Legendary American folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie was born on this date 96 years ago, in Okemah, Oklahoma. At age 52, he was picked up for vagrancy in New Jersey, and alcoholism or schizophrenia were suspected as underlying causes of his increasing erratic behavior and health changes. But at the Greystone Psychiatric Hospital he was instead diagnosed with Huntington's Chorea (now known as Huntington's Disease)--an incurable degenerative neurological condition. He died thirteen years later, at a state hospital in Queens, NY. Guthrie's ex-wife went on to work with other affected families on securing funding for research into HD.

This birthday gives me an opportunity to mention Alice Wexler's new book: The Woman Who Walked into the Sea: Huntington's and the Making of a Genetic Disease (Yale University Press, available September 2008) takes the story of Huntington's in America back long before Woody Guthrie, to the early 19th century, to the communities on Long Island where HD was a familiar reality in many leading local families. She follows the story of the disease through generations, through the eugenics era (where HD's strong genetic pattern made it an obvious subject of study), and into the present of genetic technology.


6 comments:

Will Hull said...

Wow, I never knew Woody Guthrie was a person with a disability. Thanks for sharing.

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