Summer Centered: Tina Le ’19 Delves into the Life of Woody Guthrie
The English major and health studies minor is bridging her academic interests by researching Woody Guthrie’s personal notes and struggle with Huntington’s disease.
Woody Guthrie’s timeless folk classic “This Land is Your Land” has enjoyed a recent resurgence in the American mainstream, from Bernie Sanders’ use of the song on the campaign trail to Lady Gaga’s partial tribute during this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. With support from the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, Tina Le ’19 is adding to the trend by researching the song’s author as part of a research assistantship for Associate Professor of English Gustavus Stadler.
As Stadler works on a book on Guthrie’s life between 1940 and 1960, Le is providing him with research on the involvement of Christianity in socialist and labor movements, as well as the progression and diagnosis of Guthrie’s Huntington’s disease, which killed the folk singer in 1967. She’s also helping transcribe Guthrie’s handwritten documents, some of which contain personal notes and doodles, and all of which are unpublished.
“Most people only know Woody Guthrie as a singer-songwriter—if at all—but he wrote so much more than just songs, and most of his writing about race is pretty progressive for that time period” she said, “In general, the man’s life was really interesting because of how tragic it was. I’m also really excited about how much I’m able to learn through this opportunity about topics that I otherwise would have no exposure to”
Le’s assistantship is supplementing her relatively new academic interests. Before she took Stadler’s class “Love and Sex: Queerness in the American Novel 1850-1950” last fall, she was set on majoring in biology and attending medical school. Now an English major and health studies minor, Le is interested in “the patients behind the medical claims.”
“What appealed to me about the assistantship with Gus was that it would give me an opportunity to look into Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease that is genetically inherited, from an approach that is much more humanistic than that through a biology lab,” she said. “The narrative nature of the work relates to both my major in English and my interest in health studies.”
Because of Guthrie’s propagation of social justice, communism, and anti-fascism, Le’s examination into his personal life provides her with a first-hand look into a pivotal mid-20th century political and cultural figure, and the climes that surrounded him.
“The work has given me an opportunity to learn more about race relations and gender roles in America and how they’ve developed after World War II in the midst of all of the political happenings, which are topics that have always interested me, given my role as a woman of color and [Peer Awareness Facilitator] on campus,” she said.
-Michael Weber ’19
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work